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The Noisy Silent Cinema

Can’t wait for this talk on Wednesday!

will / write and talk

Silent cinema was never actually silent. You’ll probably know from your parents or grandparents that a large organ might rise up in front of the screen of the local cinema, not in a rude way, and entertain the audience between shows. This is a throwback to when movie houses used to employ thousands of musicians across the world, playing along to the flickers with stock tunes, jazzy improvisations and sound effects to accentuate the mood or action. These musicians would find themselves suddenly unemployed with the establishment of films with synchronised sound between 1927 and 1930. The comedian Harold Lloyd recalls in his youth around 1910 going to watch a movie that had live actors literally improvising the dialogue from behind the screen, but efforts to bring sound to the moving picture go back even further than that. To the very birth of cinema.

As part of my research into…

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Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book is set in Iceland and is a fictional account of real events about the last execution that happened in Iceland in June 1829. The story is about Agnes Magnusdottir and her maid Sigridur Sigga Gudmundsdottir, and Fridrik Sigurdsson, the son of a local farmer, who have been convicted of the brutal murders of Natan Ketilsson and a visiting neighbour. The two men had multiple stab wounds and Natans remote farmhouse was torched to cover the crime.

The book draws you in with the main character and in particular for me Agnes. She has been sentenced to death.  She has to stay with a Christian family District Officer Jon Jonsson, his cold and iron stoned wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina while she awaits her execution date. It deals with the horrifying aspect of housing a convicted murderer, and how they isolate Agnes at first. Then Toti, a priest has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian  and tries to understand who she is.

Burial Rites has a very raw description of how remote and cold the winter scene are, and the setting of the farm in its rural and arctic conditions. The book is very atmospheric and one can imagine the work on the farm which was harsh and bleak with the shearing, lambing, milking and the slaughter of the animals.

I would recommend this book to anyone as it is different and the setting of the scenes in this book will leave a sense of history and questions and would be a good topic to  discuss.


Burial Rites

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Guest blog in advance of our talk next week!

In advance of my next round of illustrated talks in London I’ve been delving into the history of libraries. There are a few good modern books on the subject, but mainly from American authors. Lionel Casson’s “Libraries in the Ancient World” (Yale, 2001) is highly recommended. It’s enjoyable and remarkably concise. Casson covers the history […]

via Uncovering the Library — will / write and talk

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Digitalback Books Present: Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher & Desiree Reynolds — Repeating Islands

Digitalback Books and Brent Libraries present “deliciously diverse stories from Africa and beyond” with Short Stories Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher, Desiree Reynolds. The event will take place on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, from 6:00 to 7:45pm (18:00-19:45 GMT) at The Library at Willesden Green, located at 95 High Road, London (United Kingdom). Description: […]

via Digitalback Books Present: Readings by Leone Ross, Rod Usher & Desiree Reynolds — Repeating Islands

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5 Great True Crime Books

Think True Crime is not for you?  It doesn’t have the best reputation for high quality work but please take another look.  There are some great reads out there under this genre and we have 5 recommendations to get you started.

  1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – A true crime classic written in the 1960s.  Capote recounts the tale of the killing of four members of one family in a US farming community in 1959.   Highly regarded for it’s detail and quality of the writing it has also faced criticism for being closer to a novel based on fact that a strictly faithful account of events.
  2. The Cult of Violence by John Pearson – We move closer to home with John Pearson’s 2001 examination of the Kray twins and their South London crime spree.  The author met the twins in prison and interviewed them extensively so has real insight into their lives and crimes.  Because of his depth of knowledge gained directly from those involved this is arguably the definitive account of this famous crime duo.
  3. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale – Kate Summerscale goes all the way back to the 1860s in this absorbing story.  A nice twist putting at the center of her account, Mr Whicher, the Victorian policeman investigating the crime. Mr Whicher is called to a respectable middle class home where a child has been murdered apparently by an unknown assailant entering through an unfastened window, but Mr Whicher becomes convinced a member of the family is the murderer.  As well as offering the intriguing case the book is full of the tensions involved with a working class policeman daring to cast suspicion on a middle class family whom society regarded as his betters.
  4. Trials of Passion by Lisa Appignanesi – Rather than focusing on a single crime or criminal Lisa Appignanesi gives us a smorgasbord of turn of the 20th century crimes committed by women.  One thing the crimes have in common is that they have love or passion as the root motive (some though take strange paths away from the initial cause such as the Brighton woman who poisons innocent people indiscriminately with chocolate creams in order to camouflage her one targeted poisoning!)  Especially good in this book is the examination of how psychiatry began to play a part in crime detection and trials as doctors were called in to try to explain why the gentle sex would cause such destruction.
  5. Sexy Beasts by Wensley Carkson – In case all this murder is a bit much for you we’ve thrown in a book with the focus on robbery instead.  Sexy Beasts tells the story of the 2015 Hatton Garden diamond robbery.  Committed by a group of ageing criminals who intended to commit one last crime to set themselves up for a retirement in luxury…but things don’t quite go to plan!

So if you love history or crime novels or thrillers or whodunits then true crime might be worth a look next time you visit your library.


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Researching John Dee

Really looking forward to the talk at the Library at Willesden Green on 6 April!

will / write and talk

In advance of my talks on that Elizabethan man of mystery, Doctor John Dee, I’ve been on a real adventure of discovery. The surprising thing about retracing his distant life is how accessible he is to us today, how easy it is to walk where he walked and to see and even to touch his belongings. For a start we know exactly where he lived. The site of his house is now a modern block of flats called “John Dee House” in Mortlake, West London. But the tower of his parish church still stands, as does a section of his garden wall. At the British Museum, in the “Enlightenment” gallery is a recreation of the very first museum collection from the 1830s. This includes items attributed to John Dee, allegedly used in the summoning of angelic messengers. At the Royal College of Physicians, over 100 of John Dee’s books are available…

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Guest Blog: Author Tom Palmer

The Rugby League World Cup visiting  Central Library, Hull, April 9, 2013.  Hull Libraries, Launch of the national six book challenge

Hello. I’m Tom Palmer. I’d like to invite you to join me at Wembley Library on 12th August.

There are lots of Tom Palmers. There’s  a superhero comic book illustrator, a murderer, a professional cyclist and a country and western singer. There’s also a rugby player who used to play for England. He’s the one I get mistaken for most. Not because I look remotely like him, but because I write books about rugby. (As well as football.)

combat zonePeople often arrive at my events and look disappointed because I am not another Tom Palmer. But they usually stay and have a decent time. Not because of who I am, but because of what we do.

What we do is the Rugby Reading Game. Timely, as it is the Rugby World Cup not far from the library in a few weeks.

The Rugby Reading Game is a game of two halves. The first half is a quiz about things you can read in the library (or anywhere). Not a hard quiz. The second half is a rugby penalty kicking competition. In the library. The winner gets a trophy. To keep. scrum

That’s what I’d like to invite you to.

I didn’t like reading when I was young. But I loved sport. My mum got me visiting the library to find me things to read about sport. I came to love the library. And all the books in it, not just the sport books. I was changed from a book disliker in to a book lover. And a library lover. That’s why I host my games in libraries.

Everyone is very welcome to come along and take part in the Rugby Reading Game. Including people not interested in rugby. Or reading. Groups of friends can come as a team. Family teams too. Individuals. Even England internationals who might be kicking their heels around Wembley. Even any Tom Palmers other than me.

dead lockedSo please join us.

You can join us for the Rugby Reading Game on Wednesday 12th August at 2.30 p.m. Tickets are free!

I’ll be hanging around after the event to talk to anyone who wants to about writing and reading. There may also be a coach from the RFU there to talk to you about playing rugby. There will definitely be rugby balls and other things to give away. Possibly tee-shirts. Certainly rugby player cards. And you can borrow – or buy – books on the day too. But you don’t have to.

Thanks to Brent Libraries for hosting the Rugby Reading Game. Thanks to England Rugby for funding it. And thanks to you for reading this blog.

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Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I read this book a couple of months ago for Wembley Library’s reading group, and I have to say that whilst in many respects I was very impressed, the title itself left me, for the most part, with gaping black holes of unanswered questions. The most pressing of which were: who/what exactly was the miniaturist? And; why do I still know next to nothing about those miniatures? I was left internally screaming when my hopes to get answers fell short, but maybe this, this sense of immersion with the book (albeit laced with frustration), might be what made The Miniaturist well worth the read.cover miniturist

Set in seventeenth century Netherlands, The Miniaturist reads like a thriller with elements of other genres popping up that can throw you off guard, but works well until the end. The book begins with no fanfare and with a very unassuming, modest protagonist, Petronella. Nella, a young girl of 18 years, has just had an arranged marriage to a man several years her senior, and she has arrived in Amsterdam to live in her husband’s house with his sister and their servants. The tentative beginnings of married life are difficult for Nella as her sister-in-law, Marin, receives her coldly, and even her husband pointedly keeps his distance. As a peace offering for his behaviour, her husband Johannes, a merchant, buys her a miniature version of their house – a doll’s house basically – and Nella, though underwhelmed by the gesture, seeks the services of a miniaturist to furnish her new little house. Herein the fun starts.

Although Nella does receive every item she requests of the miniaturist, extra ones mysteriously start to be delivered to her. Ones she didn’t ask for, and ones which are incredibly accurate for things the miniaturist should know nothing about, and which also have startling resemblances to the people in her life. She starts to ask questions, write letters, none of which are responded to. During her sleuthing into this little mystery, her new family life starts to unravel around her as Johannes’ trading business falls apart and the secrets which have kept this family functioning on autopilot for so long are exposed.

The Miniturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniturist by Jessie Burton

Compared to the sister-in-law, Marin, whom the reader gets to know extremely well despite her best efforts to keep family secrets within the family, at no point could I truly say I knew, empathised with or even liked Nella. She felt to me more or less like a vessel for the story to be told rather than a young woman in seventeenth century Amsterdam with severe marital problems. There is also the big question mark that still hangs over the miniaturist. What I found frustrating was that although Jessie Burton gave us a name and a character which we could identify as the miniaturist, the hints at fantastical elements with regards to their work were never really addressed. How exactly was the miniaturist able to make such accurate miniatures of Nella’s private life? Did the miniature of the dog suddenly get a red patch after the incident with the real dog, or was it a stain that Nella missed when she first got it? And is there a magical element to this after all?

Maybe I just wanted more, and maybe that speaks volumes for how good this book is. Admittedly, the book’s sudden turn for the dramatic really made me sit up and pay attention. When I’m not fishing for answers or reading too much into the book, I can honestly say that The Miniaturist really was a very good read with a fresh approach to the thriller/historical genres – even if I stared at the last sentence of the novel in disbelief, wondering if my particular book was missing an epilogue.

By Lauris

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Reading and Mental Health

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Can books and reading help with mental health issues?

In my first Blog post I explained how reading first helped me to get a feeling of escape from difficult situations in my life, and that now it helps me to understand them and myself. For me, this is an integral part of my therapeutic journey.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and what I would really like to review are the books that explicitly help readers to be more understanding and compassionate towards people with mental health issues, and the ones that guide and support sufferers in what to do when confronted with public stigma and ostracisation for their condition.
Sadly, I’ve not yet found either of these kind of books – and if anyone reading this has, please let me know!

As someone with chronic, long term mental health issues, I am passionate about raising awareness and combating stigma. When you struggle with low mood, anxiety, uncomfortable thoughts, etc, difficulties that already involve guilt and self hatred, the last thing you need is also being hated on by others, as it were, in the form of stigma…mental health awareness week

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Mindfulness, the central remit of which is the acceptance of difficult feelings without judging them or trying to change them. This of course is something many of those without mental illness need to apply to those around them who do – accept, not judge, not try to expect them to be difficult. For those with the conditions, though, it is important to remember that these are goals are a part of all good therapeutic work. Jung himself said that we cannot change anything about ourselves unless we first accept it.

My aim in this post is to guide you on a journey towards using books, fiction and non fiction alike, to support a mindful attitude towards yourself and others. This is relevant to you whether or not you meet the diagnostic criteria for a clinical mental health issue – we ALL need a bit of extra compassion.
I will do my best to focus on books available in Brent Libraries, though I admit that WSSawI am tempted to give you a taster of my more esoteric pondering!

I recently read a crime novel by Mark Roberts entitled “What she saw”, and concluded that my actual on paper diagnosis doesn’t matter so much as the fact that I, as we all do, need kindness. How is this possible from the novel? Well, this is a complex dark thriller where the central character has been deeply traumatised from early childhood, and this governs her behaviour in the present. Because of my knowledge, I was able to work out the nature of the damage done before Roberts revealed it. What touched me so much was how he revealed and described things so compassionately. Many can be so quick to judge “deviant” behaviour without heartfully considering what the person might have been through. This novel definitely makes you sit up and think. Have any of you read any thrillers that have similarly effected you?

There are all too few memoirs by people who have lived through eating disorders primarily as an adult rather than as a teen, and unfortunately “The Time Inbetween” by Nancy Tucker is no exception. Personally, I found the exclusion of weights and BMIs to be more ‘triggering’ than if they’d actually been included, which isn’t what Nancy intended at all. I wonder how other people with experiences of eating disorders found this.
What I did learn from the book, though, was something very powerful, the profound insight that over-eating is also giving power to the under-eating of Anorexia. I believe this because it verifies it’s false beliefs and makes them real : “You are fat”. I see it as a kind of attempt at a depressed grotesque fairy tale ending. This stirs up the issue of what narrow confines diagnostic boxes can be – it is not so much to call it Anorexia, or Bulimia, or even ‘just’ a plain old Eating Disorder. It is more meaningful than that description, and could better be called Longing, Emptiness, Need. When I finally get published, a compassionate re-write of the Diagnostic Manual is on the cards!

time in betweenWhile on the subject, I’d like to whole heartedly recommend the two Janet Treasure Books on Prescription, “Getting better Bit(e) by Bit(e)” and “Anorexia Nervosa, a survival guide”. They are both full of useful information, supportively written – and, most importantly for me, are not the workbook format, which can make me feel under too much pressure and stress. That’s purely because of the way MY mind works, though, and I know that many do find that kind of help useful. There are many listed on the Books on Prescription website and leaflets. I do recommend “Overcoming Depression” by Paul Gilbert though – he’s an author who’s written a number of books about Compassion, and it’s not as severely CBT orientated as many, and something to constantly dip into, probably a good plan to eventually go and buy your own copy after borrowing, that’s what I did.bite by bite

I swear I saw “Call the Midwife” by Jennifer Worth listed as a ‘mood boosting book’ on the Reading Well list… though I can’t find it now. It definitely should be on there though, on several counts. Somewhat addicted right now to watching all the past episodes, I was really chuffed to find the Omnibus edition of her 3 memoirs at work last week. Of course you have the warmth of the families, the births, the community feel, the dedication and care of the midwives, and the spiritual dedication of the nuns. All those reasons are enough to grab a copy when you’re feeling low [Though you’ll need to wait a couple of weeks if you’re after the Omnibus version as I’m just coming to the end of the first of the 3 books in it!]. But for me in particular, what I notice is the compassionate and sensitive way those with mental health issues are portrayed.

So, there are books out there that genuinely, maybe unknowingly, promote an attitude of mindfulness and support, and the ones I’ve reviewed this month are just a snapshot. I’d be interested to hear your own recommendations and experiences.


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Book Review: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

I have actually read this before,so knew what to expect.  I’m re-reading all James Bond novels in order and wasn’t looking forward to this as it is my least favourite.



Because I’ve already said I don’t like it much I will start with the good bits.  In places it is really genuinely exciting.  My favourite scenes are when Bond is swimming through shark infested water to plant a bomb under a ship, or when he and the Bond girl are lashed together behind a boat and dragged through razor sharp coral (a scene that inspired the bit in the movie For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore’s Bond being tied to Carole Bouquet).  I also like the way Bond forms a partnership with Felix Leiter and his place as a regular Bond character and rare friend to the lonely James  is cemented.  We also meet other characters who crop up again, I didn’t remember from the first time reading it that we meet Strangways and Quarrel who both feature more heavily in Dr No – noticing this pleased me and made me feel part of the Bond Universe.


Although parts of this are ultra exciting other parts are deadly dull.  When Bond spends days preparing for a mission by dieting and reading learned books about fish I really felt I was going through it with him!  He also comes across as a bit of a wimp at times – he’s almost totally incapacitated by having his little finger broken and even turns down the chance to make love to the beautiful Bond girl Solitaire because of this injury, throughout the book he mentions his sore finger – I mean  I’m sure I’d make a fuss if I broke my finger but he’s Bond!  I also found the female lead to be a negative, of all the Bond girls she is the most stereotypical for me, the cliche that Bond girls always need rescuing and swoon as Bond’s feet is just that, a cliche.  In most of the novels the female leads are strong and capable women but not Solitaire, she really does need to be rescued (poor thing)

1950's US edition

1950’s US edition

Just Unpleasant

Now we come to the elephant in the room (or on the blog).  I think Live and Let Die is racist.

I hate to say this as I’m a massive Fleming fan but parts of this are just so uncomfortable to read and it’s littered with the ‘N’ word.  It’s not exactly that he says bad things about black people, he admires the black villain for his genius.  It’s the way Bond explores the black community like an anthropologist discussing a strange tribe, the way he discusses how black people look, think and behave is really patronising, he talks as if they are pretty much all the same rather than individuals.  I’m not sure if it’s a defense of Fleming to mention that he does the same thing towards Japanese people in You Only Live Twice – that might just mean he’s consistent in his racism!  A stronger defense is that Fleming was writing in the 1950s and black people would have been exotic and interesting to a lot of British people so he maybe he is reflecting his times – but this still doesn’t make for pleasant reading.

I couldn’t shrug it off as easily as I can the violence, sex and other non-politically correct aspects of Bond novels and it did spoil a pretty good adventure for me.

3/5 exciting in places but inconsistent and a level of racism hard for the modern reader to stomach.

(Looking forward to Moonraker – my favourite!)



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