Tag Archives: book review

The shortest book review ever

The book: Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter

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The review: Wow.

***********************************************************************

That’s it. Everything I want to say.

Can I tell you what happens? I don’t want to tell you what happens.

Can I tell you about the writing style? I don’t want to tell you about the writing style.

Am I glad I read it? No, because now I’ll never be able to come to it new again.

If you haven’t read it, you can come to it new, which is why I don’t want to tell you anything about it.

So there you have it.

Wow.

 

 

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Have you read any great memoirs lately?

As I mentioned a few months ago in my blog post When was the last time you felt really happy? I’ve been reading a lot about the craft of writing autobiography lately, and when I posted about this on my fb author page someone recommended Joy Harjo’s wonderful memoir.

IMG_2180It’s beautifully written, short but perfectly formed, with the text divided into four sections named after the directions – East for sunrise and beginnings, North for difficult teachings, West for leaving and being left, and finding your way in the darkness, and South for release.

I love the voice, so thoughtful and steeped in the spiritual traditions of Harjo’s ancestors, and the way the story begins with her journey towards being born, which gives her the opportunity to describe the lives of her parents before they became her parents.

The story is embedded in its time and place in such a way that it evokes her whole social situation, bringing it alive even for readers like me, who may have known nothing at all about the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.

Much of what she says really chimes with me, such as this idea, that has informed my life in every area, especially my writing:

I believe that if you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you. Or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.

 I’ll be blogging about other great memoirs and books on memoir writing over the coming months, while I’m planning my workshop days on ‘Writing Your Life’ and pondering my own next autobiographical adventure.

Have you read any great memoirs lately?

 

When a Writer Isn’t Writing… it’s publication day!

Today is the official publication day for When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.

I mentioned in my last post that there will be reviews in awfullybigreviews and The Book Analyst – well the first of these is already up, and here’s a taster.

‘Jenny writes in such an easy, friendly and re-assuring style that it’s tempting, if you are a galumphing reader like me, to speed through the pages. I’d advise reading this book with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences that resonate, and suggestions that require deeper pondering…’ Read more

I’m very happy with that! And the Book Analyst has tweeted that she found the book ‘very informative and useful’ so I’m looking forward to reading her full review too.

This book, coming out almost exactly a year after Writing in the House of Dreams, has been an absolute labour of love, one of those books you simply have to write even though you know you may never even earn back your investment.

I feel happy and privileged just to have been able to do it. Time to crack open the bubbly, I’d say!

‘I feel excited about looking at my dreams in a different way…’

The first time I offered my ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ workshop series I was slightly concerned that several of the people who signed up were therapists who had worked in an interpretative way with clients’ dreams in their professional life.

I wasn’t sure how they would feel about coming at dreams from a completely new angle, as pure imaginative substance, so you can imagine how relieved I was when, at the end of the first session, one of them told me, ‘I feel excited about looking at my dreams is a different way.’

The first 'house of dreams' picture I used on this blog, by course participant, Liz
The first ‘house of dreams’ picture I used on this blog, by course participant, Liz

Dreams can be an invaluable source of insight into waking life, but if you only focus on that you can miss the greater opportunity they offer, to enter and engage with the dreamworld on its own terms and experience it as a completely different kind of reality.

In order to do this, in workshops, we share dreams as simply things we have experienced, and don’t try to interpret them any more than we would try to interpret the events of waking life. It’s a discipline, because in Western culture we are so centred in the material life and our first instinct is to try to analyse and make sense of things. A train going into a tunnel? We know what that means!

But what if it’s just a train going into a tunnel? Then the experience of dreaming is fundamentally changed. Dream-working in this way gradually expands the mind to inhabit wider realities, instead of just shedding light into some of the corners of this one.

When I’m mixing dreaming with writing in workshops, we begin by sharing a dream; we take material from the dream to spark a piece of creative writing, and then we share the writing. The dream-sharing and the writing-sharing feel exactly the same, as in neither case do we try to analyse any connection between the dreamer/writer’s personal life and the stories they bring.

There is a connection, of course. A writer shows the tones and colours of their own personality, experience and ways of being in the world in all their writing, but as with dreams, if we try to extrapolate more than that, we are likely to make mistakes based upon our own experiences and assumptions.

Writing and dreams are creative processes, and that’s both the value and the joy of them. They don’t literally tell our story; they don’t all refer to the narrow facts of our life. They can take us anywhere, if we are ready for the adventure.

Susan Price's 'Nennius' blog
Susan Price’s ‘Nennius’ blog

I was delighted to discover this review by Susan Price on her ‘Nennius’ blog recently, because she totally gets what I was trying to do in the book that relates to the workshops, Writing in the House of Dreams. Actually, she describes it better than I managed to myself and, with her permission, I’ve changed my amazon book description accordingly!

Book Review: ‘Art from Dreams’ by Susan Levin

Today, it’s my pleasure to review this new book by Susan Levin, ‘Art from Dreams: My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage and Poetry.’

As a seasoned traveller in the inner world myself, I love reading about other people’s dream adventures, and one of my all-time favourite books is CG Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, for that  reason.

There isn’t very much to read in Susan Levin’s book,  just a one-page introduction and ten short poems, but I really like the way the brevity of the text brings the focus strongly back to the images and makes the book, in itself, a dreamlike experience. Levin lets the pictures tell their own stories, and give an impression of the  journey overall.

The first half of the book is called ‘My Jungian Dreams.’ Here the poems expand on the images, exploring the artist’s thoughts about consciousness and experience in an open, direct way.

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In the second half of the book, ‘Nocturnes,’ there are no poems, just a set of striking images with intriguing titles such as ‘Message from horse and snake’ and ‘Ship of souls.’

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The mixed media and collage approach feels to me an exactly appropriate way of conveying the quality of a dream, this bringing together of disparate objects into a unified experience of colour, tone and feeling.

The night after I read Art from Dreams I had a very visual dream which reminded me of one of Susan’s collages. At the bottom of the picture, me with a glass of sparkling wine; above that my Writing in the House of Dreams book launch cake, and flying above that in the clear blue sky, a young woman on a brightly-coloured hang-glider.

The book is beautifully produced and bound, a lovely object which readers will return to, and take inspiration.

Tomorrow, Susan will talk about the process of one of the artworks in the book here in the House of Dreams. Don’t miss it!

 

What kind of writer do you want to be?

I’ve always thought of myself as a very happy writer. I used to put it down purely to the fact that I was a dreamer first, and therefore completely used to coming and going across the threshold of consciousness, which meant I never experienced any kind of writing angst about getting blocked or running out of ideas.

But at the recent Scattered Authors conference in Peterborough, my friend and fellow-writer Penny Dolan recommended a book she thought I might like, called ‘Coach yourself to writing success,’ by Bekki Hill, and it has extended my thinking.

life coaching book

Penny was right – I love this kind of book. I enjoy doing practical exercises that help me to arrive at different ways of looking at things. I’m a great fan of life coaching too, having had some life-changing sessions with astrological life coach, Pat Neill, a few years ago and more recently a brilliant group session with a writing coach at a Lapidus networking day.

What has become clearer for me through reading this book is that another reason I’m very happy in my writing is that my goals are perfectly attuned to my core values.

We commonly measure writing success in terms of sales and celebrity, but I have never felt any of that is important; I haven’t felt jealous, anxious or disheartened about having less of a public profile than many of my writing friends.

My core values, it turns out, are in order of importance:

  1. Beauty/ creativity. I’ve blogged about the elegant harmonies of structure that please me in my work on the children’s blog, girlsheartbooks http://girlsheartbooks.com/2012/12/18/does-this-make-me-weird/
  2. Nature/health. I love the writing life because it means I can live somewhere remote and go walking in nature every day
  3. Loving/caring/sociability. I enjoy the connection with readers, for example here on my blog, although it’s medium-profile and profit-free. One of my main drives in writing for children is to suggest ideas which might help them create positive experiences and deal with difficult ones
  4. Originality/self-expression. The parable of the talents has always informed my life, and it feels very important to me that we explore, uncover and develop our God-given gifts, whatever they might be
  5. Spirituality/solitariness. This was the surprising one, because I’d have thought it would rank higher, but when I did the next exercise, expanding upon these core values, I discovered that all of the first four boil down to ways of celebrating the divine, in myself, the world and other people

You are more likely to achieve your writing goals if they fit with your core values in life. Should you manage to achieve goals that don’t, your success is less likely to make you feel happy.

That is not to say you are limited forever to where you are today, because core values can change and evolve. Like you yourself, they are a work-in-progress.

But for this moment and this step, understanding how your current writing goals relate to what your soul wants is empowering and may be a revelation. Like Penny, I can totally recommend this book.

Have you ever thought about how well your writing goals tie in with your core values?

Book Review: Poetry in the Making

Poetry in the making, by Ted Hughes

Written for young people, this has to be the most beautiful and insightful book I’ve ever read about the magical process of creating writing.

As you would expect, the author uses metaphors from nature to express his ideas about where poetry comes from, and what attitudes and skills a poet needs to develop in himself in order to be able to capture it.

He talks about the inner life, which seems equivalent to what I call the dream-world in these pages. It’s the world of imagination, memory and emotion, stories and images, which goes on all the time beneath the surface, ‘like the heart beat.’ We may be aware of it, or we may not. We may become aware of it through dream-recalling or any creative pursuit.

Hughes compares this inner world with a pond, saying that if we don’t learn the focus, patience and stealth to break into it ‘our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.’

He says you have to care about what you are writing, and if an idea gets stalled it will be because you don’t care enough. You shouldn’t worry about the words, but cleave to the imagination and emotion in your idea, then the words will follow in an organic way.

The review from the Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the back cover, says, ‘He makes the whole venture seem enjoyable, and somehow urgent.’

That’s exactly what the book conveys to me – the sense of venture, pleasure and also the importance of this inner journey, which takes you to the heart of who you are, and what life is.

Like most writers, I love reading about writing. Have you got a favourite book on writing that you’d like to recommend?

Book Review

Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel

The Vintage paperback cover

You won’t be surprised to hear that I love this book. It consists of twenty-six interviews with high-profile authors, sharing their thoughts about dreams and the creative process.

Probably my favourite is Sue Grafton, because she talks about the edgy nature of dreams and creative work, the ‘sense of jeopardy’ that comes with handing yourself over completely to the inner world of imagination. She describes the feeling of something mystical powering the writing process. She does not believe that all dreams have psychological meaning.

I love the way Stephen King compares his writing process with dreaming. He talks about his preparations for writing being like a bedtime ritual; of entering the writing being like falling asleep to the world, and finishing like emerging from the dream state in the morning.

Maya Angelou talks about the small mind and the large mind, which is very much my experience of dreaming and writing. They both take you into worlds without limits, and add a new dimension to waking life that makes it feel feel much bigger.

There are so many fascinating insights in this book, and it’s one you can dip in and out of if you’re busy, although I have to say I was so gripped I read it over one sunny day in London, on trains and park benches and in cafes.

A five-star read for writers and dreamers.