Category Archives: Libraries

Book Review: Heresy by S.J. Parris

Cityread starts next month and you may already know that Prophesy by S.J. Parris has been chosen as this year’s title.  Hope you are planning to read it next month!  It is part of a series so I thought I would take a look at the first book in the series in preparation (Prophesy is number two in the series).

Heresy

The sequence starts with Heresy, the first of five novels (so far) set in the late sixteenth century and following the story of Giordano Bruno, former monk turned travelling academic and part time sleuth!  Giordano Bruno was a real person and although all the novels are works of fiction they are littered with real characters and events.

The novel begins in Bruno’s youth as a monk in Italy and gives us a nice background into his character and situation.  Expelled from his monastery for reading banned books he has to go on the run and is then later excommunicated for his own controversial writings – making his existence even more perilous.

giordano-bruno

Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno

Despite his fugitive status he does find favour with some powerful people due to the brilliance of his philosophy and scientific ideas.  While this is a time of religious extremism and control it is also a time when learning and new ideas were embraced – these contradictions feature throughout the novels reflecting the confusing times he was living in.  After an exciting life on the run, including time spent working for the King of France, Bruno travels to England to a debate at Oxford University he is also hoping to locate a rare book he is eager to read – this is where the meat of this particular story begins.

Before travelling to Oxford Bruno is asked by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, to keep an eye out for Catholic Heretics while in Oxford.  Bruno admires Walsingham and also needs the money offered for the task!  He accepts with some reservations.

So you can see he’s in a bit of a pickle before he even begins!  He’s hated by some in Protestant England because of his Catholic background.  Hated by others because he has been excommunicated.  People tend not to trust him because he’s a foreigner.  He is eager to impress in a prestigious academic debate even though he doesn’t know the English debating style.  He wants to find a book, but can’t ask openly about it as it concerns elements of sorcery and could see him accused of witchcraft.  He has been told to look out for Catholics and report them to the authorities but his own instinct is for religious tolerance.  As soon as he arrives in Oxford he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and clever daughter of the University Rector – and she is very much out of bounds to a foreign former Catholic!

There is enough here for an exciting novel already…but then there is a grisly murder!

I won’t go into too much detail about the crime as this is basically a plot driven whodunit and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

I do definitely think it is worth a read.  The novel really immerses you in this fascinating era and the plot is pacey and exciting.  I suppose my only criticism is that, now I have also read Prophesy, the second novel is considerably better!  But this is a good sign as it hopefully means the series will develop and improve as it goes on.  In Hersey, while the ideas and feelings of the era seem well described, I often found it difficult to imagine the physical surroundings as S.J. Parris describes them (whereas in Prophesy the setting of Elizabethan London is extremely vivid).

3.5/5

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Filed under Book Review, books, Brent Libraries, Cityread London, Heresy, history books, Libraries, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

#LovetoRead

Over the weekend on November 5-6, libraries all over Britain took part in a twitter hash tag called #LoveToRead, which involved workers and customers to take a picture of themselves and upload it onto Twitter. As the event was organised by the BBC, they put on various events across the country, one being a talk about books with singer Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music and another being various BBC television personalities taking part in the event, well mainly the news team. The BBC website also had interviews with famous authors about what books shaped them over the years. Of course, Brent Libraries took part in the event and you can see a selection on the @BrentCulture twitter.

 

 

Kieran from Willesden Green Library’s favourite book is Christopher Hitchens ‘Diary of a Young Contrarian’ The book by the noted Vanity Fair writer and essayist explains his views in greater detail and details his life and politics.

Kieran from the Library at Willesden Green’s favourite book is Christopher Hitchens ‘Diary of a Young Contrarian’
The book by the noted Vanity Fair writer and essayist explains his views in greater detail and details his life and politics.

Adina, also from Willesden Green Library, chose Youth without Youth by Mircea Belidem, which was made into a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring Tim Roth

Adina, also from Willesden Green Library, chose Youth without Youth by Mircea Belidem, which was made into a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring Tim Roth

 

 

And finally (as we don’t want this to be all about selfies) Development Officer Kate chose two Charles Dickens classics that are not A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickelby and A Tale of Two Cities

And finally (as we don’t want this to be all about selfies) Development Officer Kate chose two Charles Dickens classics that are not A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickelby and A Tale of Two Cities

 

Well done to everyone in Brent who took part in the event during the weekend, it was a pleasure seeing the amazing variety of tastes and books on display there. The weekend shown that the library is a magical place in which anything can happen if you let your imagination wonder in it and choose a book that will make it flourish. The library is the only place (besides the internet, of course) where you do not have to pay for knowledge. Unlike the internet, in the library you can touch the knowledge, and no the iPad does not count!

I did not take part myself in the event due to intense selfie phobia but I do have a number of books that I would have liked to pose with if not for my various ailments. First is the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It is famous in two ways: one for winning the Pulitzer Prize and secondly for being Seth Cohen’s favourite book in the O.C. The book centres on the two protagonists in the title over 16 years of their lives in pre and post war America. The book tackles a wide range of subjects from war, religion, immigration and sexual identity. Plus it’s about comics. Comics are fun.

The second is a book I discovered in highschool and would have loved to study but it’s of French origin and my French is bad. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas is a story about one man seeking revenge for the deeds his friends did to him years ago. He gets sent down and then discovers gold. Jackpot. Guess what happens next?

I must end it there but now I ask you: Did you take part in #LoveToRead? Do you have a book you love to pose with?

 

BY SOLMAZ

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Halloween Blog- 3 Favourite Witches and Wizards of Literature

Of all the monsters and heroes that people often dress up as at Halloween, the favourite for everyone are witches and wizards. They both appear in literature sometimes as protagonists and support characters, but most often they are the villains of the story, witches more often than wizards. The rabble of characters I have selected for my list are all the stars of their respective stories and all have a thing in common with each other, see if you can spot it in the list!

worst-witch

  1. Mildred Hubble – The Worst Witch Series – Jill Murphy

My personal favourite character on this list, Mildred is presented to us in Jill Murphy’s 80’s book of the same name as a bumbling, accident prone girl, a “worst witch” as you will. Everything seems to not go to her favour, from messing up in Potions class to not getting a black cat like the other girls but instead a grey coloured cat she calls ‘Tabby’. Mildred’s bumbling is actually her greatest strength in the books as she (unknowingly) saves the day in each one, with accidental consequences of course! What made Mildred my favourite over the years is that she was very gloriously average. Most characters I have read about up until then were Greek in their ways, flawless and ones to model ourselves after. Mildred in a way was us, and we were following her journey with her. I also thanks to Mildred, grew quite fond of tabby cats and used to always carry a beanie baby tabby cat with me and pretend I was Mildred, in fact I was her for Halloween three times in my life! Re-create the look by getting a black pinafore, thin scarf, blue shirt and witches hat. And don’t forget those famous plaits!

  1. Wizard Howl – Howl Series – Diana Wynne Jones

I admit I did not know who Diana Wynne Jones was as a child and I first came across her as
a teenage anime fan, seeing the movie adaptation of her book Howl’s Moving Castle. But we are not here to talk about the movie version as this is a library blog. Howl is somewhat of a mysterious character when you are first introduced to him. Although the book is called ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ you are seeing the events through the eyes off a milliner called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is turned into an old woman for much of the story, and her meeting Howl is a happy accident. Howl is presented to us as a vain if quirky wizard who is supposed to be this ‘heart eating demon’. Throughout the book, you see (through Sophie) Howls personality change from that to a selfless hero who is a powerful wizard. Complete the look for Halloween by finding the dandiest suit you can find and putting a blond wig on.

  1. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series- J.K Rowling

This series does not need any waffling from me to introduce it does it? Even though Harry is the main star of the series, it was his clever friend Hermione Granger that I always was in awe of. She was the straight woman of the 3 Man Band of Harry, Ron and herself. She would always use her cunning intelligence to get Harry and Ron out of trouble and lets face it, she was the real hero of the stories. Get the look by purchasing a Harry Potter Hogwarts uniform set from any fancy dress shop and letting you hair go wild.

 

Brent libraries are running Halloween events all half term so check brent.org/events for more details.

 

By Solmaz

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Wildlife in the library?!

Autumn has arrived in full force which means falling leaves, bonfires, Halloween and the growing fascination with everything pumpkin spiced. But one little animal is as much autumn as the other things mentioned and is the topic of this blog. They are cute, spikey and some go fast! Out if ideas?

Well it is none other than the humble hedgehog! This bundle of spikes is a quaint autumn sight but numbers have been declining over the years. Here are a few tips to keep them safe and warm in the coming months:

  • Check any bonfires you set up to see if there is a hedgehog sleeping there underneath. Bonfire piles attract hedgehogs because it is warm and away from danger but many get killed each year due to the bonfire so before you celebrate, always check your bonfire pile!
  • Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs do not like milk as they are lactose intolerant. That means their bodies cannot process the enzymes that are in milk and it makes them very sick indeed. Instead, give them water and any cooked meat you have lying around as it goes down a treat with the ‘hogs. Even better, if you keep pets that require them yourself, live mealworms are perfect as they are similar to what hedgehogs eat in the wild.
  • You can always try building your own ‘hedgehog house’ out of leaves, sticks, moss and anything else that you can find in the garden. They must be well hidden as hedgehogs have quite a few predators lurking about ready to pounce. You can also include a blanket but it is preferred if you have any natural insulation, like feathers.

hedgehog-in-leaves

Some even keep hedgehogs as pets but it is not recommended that you pick one up from the streets. There are many licensed breeders online or better yet check if your local animal shelter or hedgehog re-homer have any looking for a home if you want to commit to having one as a pet. If not those tips will have a rabble of little hogs coming to you. Hedgehogs do not like us as much as we like them but they are fun to watch from afar.

Our Libraries have many books on hedgehogs, from fiction books in the Children’s section to hedgehog care and animal books in the Non Fiction section. One of the more popular hedgehog books is The Hodgeheg, By Dick King-Smith which is about a young hedgehog who decides to become a road safety hero to his family and other hedgehogs.

Brent Libraries are also having a Green Cities Arts and Crafts session this October and the theme is you guessed it, hedgehogs! Children can make their own paper hedgie out of paper and dried leaves. A tip is to bring your own dried leaves from your garden at home. You can colour your hedgehog’s ‘leaf spikes’ in all the colours of the autumn leaves. The next session in time of writing is at the Library at Willesden Green, Saturday 22nd October at 2.30m,-4pm.

By Solmaz

Make your own hedgehog as our craft event!

Make your own hedgehog as our craft event!

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150 Years of Beatrix Potter

beatrix-potter

2016 marks the 150th birthday of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter, famous for her whimsy tales of animals doing everyday things that had that English charm about them. Each tale featured a titular animal, often in clothes having many adventures in the countryside, in which Potter was most fond. Most of her stories contained rabbits, in which the two most famous ones, Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit were modelled after two rabbits Potter had as a child. She loved her rabbits, often taking them on family holidays to Scotland and walking the, on leashes.

The most famous book and the one that launched her to national (and later worldwide) famepeterrabbit was of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The story begins which our plucky hero Peter wanting to explore the world around him. His mother warns him that Mr. Macgregor’s vegetable patch is dangerous. His sisters, The Cottontails, obey but Peter’s thirst for adventure gets the better of him. He sneaks into the garden and starts to eat all the vegetables he could find. Not before long the garden owner Mr. Macgregor catches sight of Peter and tries to capture him. Peter quickly makes a run for it but gets stuck in the fence. Lucky for Peter he gets saved by Benjamin Bunny and then promises his mother never to wander far again.

Today, Peter Rabbit has an empire, from books, games, décor and even his own animated series!

foxy-gentlemanMy personal favourite Beatrix Potter tale was the one of Jemima Puddle Duck. I do not know what drew me to this what some might see at first glance a melancholy tale of a duck desperately wanting to have a family. Nevertheless, I watched the video every day and carried around a plush of her everywhere I went. As I grew older, I came to look at Beatrix Potter’s tales with new eyes and when I started working here at Brent Libraries, re-discovered the books I read in my youth. The charm of her books is that all ages can enjoy and take away their own views of the tales. Throughout her life, Beatrix Potter wrote 23 of them, each featuring animals that she would see on her walks across the countryside and later on at her very own farm, Hill Top.

Brent Libraries will be holding a number of events this autumn to mark her 150th birthday. We will have a selection of her books out on display, including her “lost” tale, The Tale of Kitty in Boots, illustrated by Roald Dahl’s favourite, Quentin Blake. The Children’s Libraries across Brent will also be hosting craft sessions to celebrate, so why don’t you come along with your children and make their favourite character from the tales including the famous Peter Rabbit and my favourite always, Jemima Puddle Duck. The events will be on at the end of October so please check www.brent.gov.uk/events for your nearest library.

What is your favourite Beatrix Potter tale? Do you wish she made a tale from your favourite British animal? Please comment with your views.

 

By Solmaz

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Four Children’s books for Black History Month

The month of October means chilly autumn winds, Halloween costumes and pumpkin spice lattes but another important event also takes place on the tenth month of each year. Black History Month celebrates the rich diversity and culture of many Black British people and all throughout the month there will be events all around the capital. Here at Brent libraries we embrace this all over our departments but none more so than our Children’s libraries. Here are five books for children that feature and teach all about Black culture.

 

  1. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffmanamazing-grace

10 year old Grace is a bubbly girl with a lot of ambitions for what she wants to be when she is older, but for now she really wants to be
Peter Pan for the school play. When she is put down by her classmates who say that she cannot play Peter Pan because she is a girl and that she is black, Grace is very upset. Grace finds solace in her grandmother who tells her about all the great things that Black people have done in history. With that new found confidence Grace shines as Peter Pan now she feels she can do anything. This book is great for teaching kids that there is no limit to what you can achieve, no matter who you are.

 

2. Through My Window by Tony Bradmanthrough-my-window

This vibrant book celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and it is worthy of that distinction for a very good reason that it
celebrates the diversity of London. The story is about a little girl called Jo who sees all the people and sights around her estate from the milkman, postman and her neighbour Mrs Ali who shares with Jo and her dad sweets from her country. This book teaches young children about all the varieties of people and sights that are all around us and how sharing is good.

3.  I love my Hair! By Natasha Anastasia Tarpleyi-love-my-hair

Hair comes in many different textures, lengths and colours but when you are a child it can be hard to feel good about your hair, especially when it is not the ‘same’ as ‘others’. This book is all about celebrating Afro-Caribbean hair told in a lovely array of watercolours. It shows techniques of caring for Afro-Caribbean hair in which they can relate to. It also teaches young black children to be proud of their hair and heritage. This book is very useful and is a very nice addition to your child’s bookshelf.

4. Handa’s Hen by Eileen Brownhandas-hen

Handa’s Hen is a counting book about a girl called Handa from a Kenyan tribe. One day she goes out to feed her grandmother’s hen and finds out that she has disappeared. We then follow Handa and her best friend Akeyo to find the hen, learning numbers across the way. They come across sunbirds and lizards in their journey to find the missing hen. This beautiful book teaches kids about counting and how other cultures live and be together.

 

Solmaz

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Books and Mental Health: The Shock of the Fall

“Mental illness turns people inwards […] It keeps up forever trapped by the pain of our own minds, in the same way that the pain of a broken leg or a cut thumb will grab your attention, holding it so tightly that your good leg or your good thumb seem to cease to exist.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

I really feel that this book tried as much as possible, within the confines of the written word, to take us into the mind of someone struggling to deal with the introspective nature of a mental illness. The reality that no one else can see these struggles can make a person feel they are going mad before the symptoms have begun manifesting themselves physically outside of their heads.

“I can only describe reality as I know it. I’m doing my best, and promise to keep trying.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the Fall is refreshing for not having a schizophrenic protagonist who spends the entire novel talking to himself and clutching his head in a dark corner of a room. I think Filer’s done a great job of giving more substance to something which can too often be viewed under one umbrella – not all mental health sufferers look the same, and not everyone deals with these issues the same way. In this book, Matt, despite his illness and outbursts, shows in his witty and often sarcastic observations of his life, that he is not defined by his mental health.

“Inside my head is a jigsaw made of trillions and trillions and trillions of atoms. It might take a while.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

This week is mental health awareness week, and relationships is the focus of the campaign this year – which I think is very important. Having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) a few years ago, I have had to re-learn how to interact with people, to rewire and divert my thought processes so that I am not always assuming the worst and feeling terrible because of it. BPD is so wide and so vast, but to me, it means that on top of navigating a minefield of symptoms, I am always looking out for signs of rejection as a defence mechanism – whether in micro-expressions or brief changes in body language. This makes relationships difficult because BPD sufferers feel emotions intensely, and the slightest perceived negativity can send them into episodes of depression and self-doubt that can last days, and interacting with others during this period can be incredibly stressful. 

“[…] one thing I’ve learnt about people, is that they can always surprise you.” – Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

One of the hardest things for a mental health sufferer to accept is that this illness is theirs whether they want it or not, and that can be a very isolating experience. This is why this week is so important in highlighting just how much a human presence can mean to someone like Matt, who felt often deflated and without a clue how to help himself, or accept help. Just like relationships take time to nurture, understanding the dynamics of mental health will take a long time. But all of us can make a small start by making a cup of tea for a struggling loved one, or even by picking up a book and being open about what we find in it.

 

by Lauris

 

Brent Libraries have great stock of mental health related books, whether factual or fictional. It’s never too late to start talking about mental health, and books always make great conversation starters.
Some helpful contacts, should you feel you need them:

Mind
15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ
T: 020 8519 2122, Info line: 0300 123 3393
e: contact@mind.org.uk
http://www.mind.org.uk/
Samaritans
24 hour helpline: 116 123 (freephone)
jo@samaritans.org
samaritans.org
Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, Chris
PO Box 90 90
Stirling
FK8 2SA

Sane Line
Offering specialist mental health emotional support 6-11pm everyday.
You can also email through their website.
Tel: 0845 767 8000
Web: www.sane.org.uk

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Reading Well for young people

The Reading Agency have compiled a list of books to help young people deal with and  gain understand of mental health issues.  This is an extension of the successful Books on Prescription scheme.

There’s some really interesting choices and it’s not all about self-help, there’s fiction and graphic novels too.

What do you think?  Can reading help with health?  Would you add anything to this list…or take any of the titles off it?!

Here is the list the Reading Agency suggest:

  1. Stuff That Sucks: Accepting What You Can’t Change and Committing to What You Can by Ben Sedley (Robinson, Little Brown)
  2. Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson (Hot Key Books)
  3. The Self-Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!! by The Self-Esteem Team (John Blake Publishing)
  4. Blame My Brain: The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed by Nicola Morgan (Walker Books)
  5. Quiet the Mind by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  6. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Walker Books)
  7. Kite Spirit by Sita Brahmachari (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  8. House of Windows by Alexia Casale (Faber)
  9. Every Day by David Levithan (Electric Monkey, Egmont)
  10. My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez (Magination Press, American Psychological Association)
  11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Simon & Schuster)
  12. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (Sceptre, Hodder)
  13. Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User’s Guide to Adolescence by Luke Jackson (Jessica Kingsley)
  14. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Vintage)
  15. Teen Life Confidential: Bullies, Cyberbullies and Frenemies by Michele Elliott (Wayland, Hachette Children’s)
  16. Vicious: True Stories by Teens about Bullying Hope Vanderberg (Free Spirit Publishing)
  17. Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Building Positive Self-Esteem for Young People by Kate Collins-Donnelly (Jessica Kingsley)
  18. Teen Life Confidential: Self-Esteem and Being You by Anita Naik (Wayland, Hachette Children’s)
  19. Face by Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloomsbury)
  20. Am I Depressed and What Can I Do About it? by Shirley Reynolds and Monika Parkinson (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  21. I Had a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson, Little, Brown)
  22. Can I Tell You About Depression? by Christopher Dowrick and Susan Martin (Jessica Kingsley)
  23. Can I Tell You About Eating Disorders? by Bryan Lask and Lucy Watson (Jessica Kingsley)
  24. Banish Your Body Image Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly (Jessica Kingsley)
  25. Touch and Go Joe by Joe Wells (Jessica Kingsley)
  26. Breaking Free from OCD: A CBT Guide for Young People and their Families by Jo Derisley, Isobel Heyman, Sarah Robinson, Cynthia Turner (Jessica Kingsley)
  27. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (Walker Books)
  28. The Truth About Self-Harm by Celia Richardson (Mental Health Foundation)
  29. Fighting Invisible Tigers: A Stress Management Guide for Teens by Earl Hipp (Free Spirit Publishing)
  30. Teenage Guide to Stress by Nicola Morgan (Walker Books)

(All these books are available to borrow from Brent Libraries)

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Event: The Sign of Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes could be said to be the world’s greatest multimedia star. But he never even existed. In stories, plays, musicals, movies, not to mention TV and radio, he’s been played by over 70 actors from countries across the globe. The magic is that we all feel we know the character, he’s as ubiquitous as The Beatles or Father Christmas in popular culture and adored by even those who’ve never read a word of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books. How did this happen? And how has a very Victorian character endured and thrived in the modern, digital world?

Sherlock on sofa

Tomorrow night amateur sleuth and Holmes buff WJ Bird be appearing at The Library at Willesden Green to take you on a journey from Baker Street to the bright lights of Hollywood and beyond to answer these questions.

The first Sherlock Holmes film was made in 1900, the latest just last year. His author died in 1930 but new stories about his most famous creation are still being written. Sherlock Holmes himself was killed off in a story in 1893 but returned from the dead in 1901 so perhaps his immortality was assured back then!

I met up with Will to ask him a few questions about his relationship with the great  fictional detective.

Q. What’s Your favourite Sherlock Homes story and why?

“The Red Headed League” is a personal favourite as it is such a bizarre case and a lovely depiction of working life in Victorian London. Like many of the early short stories, nobody dies either. “The Musgrave Ritual” too is interesting as it’s a historical case that Holmes himself narrates – it’s set before he met Watson.

 

red headed league

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the ITV version of The Red Headed League.

Q. Why do you think Sherlock Holmes captured the public’s imagination?

Come to the talk to find out my theories on this! But it’s mainly down to 1) the spread of popular media like magazines, cinema, TV and radio and 2) the creativity and passion of a lot of talented people over the past century, not just Arthur Conan Doyle!

Q. How has Sherlock Holmes influenced modern detectives on TV and in fiction?

Difficult question, but I guess being the first popular detective in English fiction means that he’s influenced them all. The detective as a maverick, not an establishment figure, has become a common theme, as has the importance of the more approachable “sidekick”. Conan Doyle also helped establish the idea of exposing the criminal underworld of a modern city through sometimes shocking tales, setting the template for Raymond Chandler and his like.

Big screen sherlock

Sherlock Holmes has appeared many times on the big screen

Q. Will Sherlock Homes still be in the public consciousness in 100 years?

As he keeps being reinvented then absolutely yes. As I say in my talk he’s gone in and out of fashion in popular culture over the decades, but the stories have never been out of print. But he’s becoming almost a mythical figure like Robin Hood now, not merely a literary one.

To hear more from Will do please come along to our free talk at The Library at Willesden Green, 6.30pm, 18 November.  (They’ll even be free wine and mince pies!)

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Book Review: Outline by Rachel Cusk

outline

I found this an odd book.  I guess this sort of literary fiction really isn’t my kind of thing – I’m a simple creature who enjoys a good exciting story far more than this kind of clever word play.

The basic storyline (though as I will go on to say the story really doesn’t seem to be the point of the book) is that a writer goes to Athens for a summer to teach a summer school in creative writing.  Along the way she has conversations with a number of people, some new acquaintances others people she has met at previous summer schools.  She sort of reflects on these meetings and conversations and we, the readers, get to know a bit about what she is thinking.  None of it rings true (I’m not sure it’s supposed to),  the people don’t come across as real people and the tone is ponderous and repetitive.

I will open a page at random to give you an example, in this scene she is having lunch with an old colleague, (I think this is him speaking although the author doesn’t use speech marks in a conventional way) ;

I realised that my little dream of a publishing house was destined to remain just that, a fantasy, and in fact what that realisation caused me to feel was not so much disappointment at the situation as astonishment at the fantasy itself.  It seemed incredible to me that at the age of fifty-one I was still capable of producing, in all innocence, a completely unrealisable hope.  The human capacity for self-delusion is apparently infinite – and if that is the case, how are we ever meant to know, except by existing in a state of absolute pessimism, that once again we are fooling ourselves? I had thought there was nothing, having lived my whole life in this tragic country, about which I could any longer deceive myself, but as you have so unhappily pointed out, it is the very thing you don’t see, the thing you take for granted, that deceives you.  And how can you even know you have taken something for granted until it is no longer there?

See what I mean?  Nobody talks like that!  And that’s pretty much the style of the whole book.

I guess you are now expecting me to tell you how much I hated this book, but I didn’t   The first chapter I thought ‘what is this?!’ but kept reading because I wanted to find out, after the next couple of chapters I had decided it was pretentious rubbish and to stop reading, I went on to read something else but didn’t return Outline to the library and went back to it.  I started to find it strangely compelling.  I read it very slowly, sort of dipping in and out and reading other things in between.  It sort of reminded me of a wander round an averagely attractive park on a cloudy day that is neither hot nor cold – it’s not an exciting or memorable experience but is nice enough and is quite relaxing and unchallenging.   I don’t really know what else to say.  Perhaps you have to be far cleverer than me to get much out of this book.

2.5/5

Zoe

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