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Books R Us
Category: Writing
Tags: books bookshops fiction writers abroad

I have just returned from a visit to the UK. Whenever I had a free moment, I indulged my passion for browsing in bookshops. 

This is one of the things I miss most about living in France. French bookshops are OK, but it simply isn’t as appealing to browse in one of them as it is in an English one. Why?  

Is it the language? Not really. Clearly, French is my second language and I will never feel as comfortable in it as in English. But I now read, and enjoy, French novels without too much difficulty. 

Is it the décor? Partly. English bookshops have certainly smartened up their act – some people might say too much, with coffee shops and three for two offers, like packs of biscuits. Many of the old family-run bookshops are, sadly, on their way out, submerged by the competition from the big chains, such as Waterstones and Books Etc. But even the chains have something about them that you don’t find in their French equivalents. 

It’s true that one branch of Waterstones looks pretty much like another. But I don’t think that matters too much. They are light, bright and well organised and you can often sit down and try before you buy. 

I can’t speak for bookshops in Paris, since I am not familiar with them, but the ones we visit in our region look a bit behind the times. They are not particularly inviting to enter and the books are stacked in piles around the place rather than being temptingly displayed. 

Is it the books themselves? That has a lot to do with it. I’m not talking about their contents but about their design and presentation. I’m sorry to have to say this, but French books just look boring. Despite the French penchant for the avant-garde, the designs are dull, a bit old-fashioned and not very colourful. Go into an English bookshop and it’s a kaleidoscope of colour. The books just invite you to pick them up because of the way they look. 

I hope the day of the bookshop is not drawing to an end, in the wake of ebooks and electronic readers. Many of the novels I buy are impulse purchases. I wouldn’t buy them if I couldn’t look at them first: the way they look plays an important part in my purchasing decisions. While I use Amazon and other Internet shops, it’s normally only for technical stuff that I need for my work or for presents. This means that every time I come back from the UK, I am staggering under the weight of reading matter that I have picked up on impulse. 

So let’s hope there is room still for the printed word alongside the electronic one. For me, it would be a sad day if there were no more bookshops. 


 

Distractions and Other Demands
Category: Writing
Tags: writing deadlines writers abroad writing fiction

 

Do you find yourself at the end of the week, wishing that you could start again?

I do on a regular basis. I have many plans about how much I’ll get done, write it all down, usually in a million places. Then I get to the end of the week and find that I still have most of my plans outstanding. Is it me? My organisational skills are good and I’ve spent years being organised in a job in the real world so what is going on? Having pondered this for a time this afternoon (when in fact I’d allocated a couple of hours editing short stories) I have concluded that there are several reasons.

  1. I enjoy the ‘process’ of organising a little too much and so spend most of the week doing that. I love to make lists about lists, file things, make new labels, and sift through drawers marvelling at the things I find in them. However, this process does uncover some forgotten piece of work or an outline, so not all is lost and I find something else to put on the list.
  2. The other problem is the size and number of the “To Do’s” I set myself. I know from years of managing projects, that you should break things down into manageable tasks. ‘You can’t eat an elephant in one go’ a manager used to dictate on a too regular basis. But I know that it’s true. So why do I set myself the ‘task’ of editing an 80,000 word novel in an afternoon? As well as do major reviews of the three other novels of similar wordage I have lurking in my action file. So I find myself messing about, sending emails, playing games of tranquillising sheep (thanks to Writers Abroad member, Rob, a lovely diversion) and having conversations with my dog who sits patiently by my side huffing and puffing, thinking only of ‘walkies.’
  3. The ‘real world’ had its own particular constraints and boundaries.  I suppose when you get down to the nitty gritty, the real world paid my wages. When you work for yourself and you work at home, it is (for me anyway) a little more difficult to be focused on the task. I know it’s more important - for no-one is going to pay me for doing nothing, but I’m not. Doing nothing. I am just not doing what I set out to do. And there is no way I’m ever going back out into the real world.
  4. The fourth reason I could provide is that I just have too much to do (haven’t we all?) There is so much advice about looking at how you spend your time and sifting out the ‘unimportant’ things. There isn’t any of it that I could jettison, or would want to for that matter. So I don’t think I’m going to do a feng shui with my to do list.  I get a great sense of achievement when I have completed things. And I do get lots of things done, mostly things that are not on my list but needed doing anyway. Last week I submitted a short story, I blogged about the work on my novel, I Monday Mused, submitted revisions, provided critiques at Writers Abroad and carried out my duties as editor for two international academic journals. And also the found time to walk the dog, get jobs in the garden done before the rainfall and read a couple of novels.

So what am I going to do differently? Well, I’ll never stop making lists that’s for sure, as you can see. I’m going to think hard and long about it (moments probably) and shall probably do the same again and again. But maybe I’ll think a little differently about the end of the week, concentrate on things I have done, rather than on those I haven’t. It is all a matter of perspective. And I'm going to learn to dance in the rain...

Love or mere infatuation?
Category: Writing

Love or mere infatuation?

I know at least some of the members at WA have been considering the eBook reader issue (while others have vowed that they will never give in). So I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce you to the new love of my life - my kindle.

Amazon has become my best friend since moving abroad. Without it, I’m not even convinced I could have stayed the course. I need books. They are not something I can take or leave, they are essential to my existence, and I’m sure that’s the case with all of us. So Amazon was a lifeline. But you have to pay postage on Amazon, quite hefty when you live abroad. You also have to wait for your delivery, and sometimes you have to accept that parcels are never going to arrive (I’m pretty certain our 90 year old post mistress burns parcels in the winter to keep warm!).

With Kindle, your book is with you in seconds, magically plucked out of cyberspace and delivered to your reader. You don’t even have to connect to the internet.

So what’s the reading experience like?

Great!

That’s an objective opinion - honest. The kindle is about the size of a small paperback. So it’s easy to hold, and the size gives a sort of comfortable familiarity. You don’t even have to move your hands to turn the pages; just flick a button, conveniently situated on the side. The book always opens at the page you left it. The screen is easy to read, not like the glare of a computer. If your eyesight is bad, you can change the font size. And if you’re feeling lazy, the text to speech function will even read your story to you.

So now, I should perhaps talk about the downsides.

Sorry – can’t think of any.

Okay, I’ll try a little harder.

My kindle seems incredible small and fragile. I’m sure if I dropped it on the tiled floor it would all be over. I find I want to hug it close all the time and keep it safe. I intend to buy a hot pink leather cover to keep it snug and warm at night.

Also, the kindle ereader prefers kindle books. And while it will read PDF formats, so it is possible to buy books from other places than Amazon, all the functions don’t necessarily work. Not really an issue if you just want to read the book.

Finally, I think the biggest problem for me is – it’s just too easy to spend money. They call it one click shopping, and there, at the press of a button, you’ve spent another £5 you didn’t really have. I’m going to have to learn restraint, never one of my strong points.

 

So would I recommend it – a definite yes!

It’s not the same as reading a book. But it is possible to adjust to change. When I first started writing, most was done in longhand, and I have piles of notebooks full of hand written stories. But I’ve just realized that I’ve been using the same notebook now since January, and it’s still only half-full. I used to have to print everything in order to edit or critique. These days my printer stands idle.

So is this love or mere infatuation?

I think it’s love.

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