Category Archives: Reading

Two new reads and workshop news….

Two new reads and workshop news….
Two new reads and workshop news….

Firstly, many apologies but we have had to postpone our Mat and Page course for 22nd July due to unavoidable life stuff… if you’ve already booked, you should have had an email, but we will be back with more courses. This is such a wonderful mixture of yoga and journal writing that we’re both passionate about. How could we not share everything we’ve learnt with you!


In other news, if all this hot weather is making you feel like a swim, then my short story, Potassium Man, is the Weekend Read here. Thank you to the wonderful For Books Sake for choosing and featuring my story.

And another story of mine has just been published in an anthology about GLUTTONY. Thank you so much to Matt Potter and Pure Slush for selecting this rather mad story. It began on the No 29 bus between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton, and features Ed, who likes to enjoy his own picnic on the bus. Here’s the start…

Shhh, I tell myself. Stop making so much noise, but then I start eating and just forget about everyone else.

            It’s like I’m on a magic carpet. No, not that. A camel, because we’re swaying this way and that across Kent and into Sussex. I keep my bag beside me, so I can dip into it every now and then, pull out a silver foil wrapped package and…

            … ohhh…

            … a hard boiled egg with…

            … yes …

            … a twist of salt.

            To tell the truth, I’ve often thought about leaving the egg behind after those two women complained about the smell that one time.

            ‘I thought he was farting. Did you too, Caroline?’

            ‘I didn’t like to think.’

            And then they were giggling as if someone having his lunch in public was an entertainment.

            ‘Oh my god, Caroline,’ the loud one went. ‘He’s got a chicken leg now.’


The power of reading aloud together

The power of reading aloud together
The power of reading aloud together

Last Sunday, I got invited to something wonderful. I’d heard about the village here in Kent that had got together at Christmas and read Paradise Lost out loud to each other, and a friend and I were inspired – we would do the same! But somehow things got in the way and, er, we haven’t actually got round to it yet.

But luckily for Rolvenden, the same people who organised the Paradise Lost event organised another reading and luckily for me, I got an invitation. Because it seems you get the well-intentioned (me) and the actual do-ers (them). In this case it’s Rob Pursey, Amelia Fletcher and Colin Teevan – thank you thank you thank you! (I love the story about how when Rob and Colin first thought of the idea, they suspected it might be the two of them reading Milton to each other in a shed.)

Far from it. For this second event, they had invited Michael Longley and his wife, Edna, to visit them and to read his poems aloud with him, and about thirty of us crammed into Rob and Amelia’s wonderful sitting room and let the words wash over us. As Michael himself sat and listened! What a privilege. There was real magic in the communal experience, and a reminder that poetry should be read out loud – especially with all the different voices, accents and even the mangling of Irish place names, as we took one poem each to read in turn…

And I think Michael enjoyed it too…. here’s a gorgeous photo of him at the end of a full reading of his collection, The Stairwell that sums up the day….  (the photograph is by John Stanley, and Rob kindly said I could share it.)

michael longley.jpg

An Inbetween Literary Quiz

An Inbetween Literary Quiz
An Inbetween Literary Quiz

It’s the inbetween week, I always think. Getting rid of most of the Christmas decorations but not quite ready for spring – where robins and tulips share mantlepieces.


So if you have a few minutes spare, here are a few questions (book themed) from our New Year quiz… no prizes (the coveted bag of brussel sprout shaped chocolates has already been taken) but if you email me, I’ll send you the answers!

1.Top Ten Bestsellers for 2017??? PICK THE REAL FIVE….

  • The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton
  • How to Clean Up Your Life by Kirstie Allsop
  • 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver
  • Bad Dad by David Walliams
  • The Avocado Diet by Jane Kanes
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
  • Fashion Tips from the Handmaids Tale by Gloria Lines
  • Guinness World Records 2018
  • Urban Streetlight Bathing by Plum Lawrence
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari


2. Name the book that has this first line…

  1. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
  1. You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
  1. “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”
  1. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
  1. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

3. Which author has had his/her name on franked envelopes this year?

4. What have these five books below got in common?

* “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty
* “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
* “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
* “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
* “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis

5. According to PLR figures, which of these three authors was NOT in the top ten most borrowed in UK libraries. Was it a) Harper Lee b) Lee Child or c) Jeffrey Archer?


So how do you organise your book shelves?

So how do you organise your book shelves?

Never let it be said we’re not exciting in Tunbridge Wells. Not only have we recently had our own sex festival, but our librarians have gone crazy…


They’ve been arranging the books by colour instead of the normal (boring) categories.

blue books

I must admit I loved it. Particularly on a grey day. Look at the yellow suns here… I noticed I wasn’t the only one walking round the table stroking them.

sunshine books

What do you mean, you don’t stroke books? How else do you let them know that you’ll come back and read them one day?

colourful books

But aside from the joy of it – and shouldn’t libraries and books be about joy? – it felt like I’d walked into one of my own short stories, In Good Order, in which a man tries a bit too hard to distil order on his life/wife via their book shelves. It’s here if you want to read it …. In Good Order.

Looking for something new to read?

Looking for something new to read?

Well, look no further… and not just one book but I’ve got ONE HUNDRED BOOKS, all written by women, and chosen by women, for you.

#100Women100Books is the result of one of the most lovely months Viccy Adams and I have just had, asking 100 of our friends and family to give us the one book they would recommend to put in our virtual women’s library for 2017.

JUST ONE BOOK!!! That was the cry we had most often, but then we got the books – a varied, exciting, yummy selection, all with the reason they had been picked. Some were funny, some were serious, some had made the chooser thing again, others had been favourites since they were children. Nearly everyone demanded a conversation – OH MY GOD, I REMEMBER THIS ONE or an immediate search to find out more, and yes, more than few purchases!

So why did we do this?

The picture above is one of the shelves of books in Compton Verney‘s 19th Century Women’s Library, where Viccy and I had a residency in January, and I’ll be going back to next month. All fine and good, you might say, but these aren’t real books – but rather false spines and were there just to give the impression of a well read woman, maybe? So Viccy and I decided to create our own virtual library of the books women should be reading today.

You’ll be able to read the whole list in July on our website, Spreadsheets and Moxie (and read more about the project there) but in the meantime if you like our page on Facebook (here) we are putting up two of three of the choices EVERY DAY – and with the reasons why they have been picked. Here are some of the ones so far to show just how varied the choices are…

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, The Oxytocin Factor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing
“This book is a wonderful introduction to the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, released within just 40 seconds of giving someone nurturing touch such as big hug. Research by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that oxytocin can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the level of stress hormones and bring a sense of calm…. so the book is essential reading for every woman.” Mary Atkinson

Toni Morrison, Beloved
“It’s a book about slavery narrated from a woman’s perspective and definitely one of the most powerfully affecting novels I have ever read. I still remember when and where I read it for the first time, twenty years after the event.” Louise Page

Jung Chang, Wild Swans
“It follows three generations of woman who grew up in China. I read it when I was traveling in Asia at 19 with an awful boyfriend who I promptly dumped as soon as I got back to Heathrow: the book was my saviour. It brought me so much strength to read about what these women had had to live through. I don’t think I’ve ever been so absorbed in a book since. It has been totally unforgettable and stayed with me all these years. It still sits in my bookshelf covered in yellowing and crispy sellotape; one of these days I’ll read it again.” Helen Bishop

Charlotte Brontë, Villette
“Because of her insistence on her right to love and be loved despite not being a beautiful princess.” Amy Caldwell-Nichols

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
“I’ve chosen it because it is a bold, thoughtful and courageous collection of essays. It explores writing/poetry/the arts as forms of knowledge that are feminine and offer a contrast to patriarchal-academic constructs of knowledge. She urges the feminist reader to explore and embrace differences of race, class, age, sexuality, physical ability, etc. within their understanding of feminism, as they can impact women’s experiences of oppression differently.” Juliana Mensah

So follow us on this journey, and remember to come back on 19th July when the whole list will be published! In the meantime, you can add your own selection to the library via our website – here. We’ve been reading and enjoying those choices too – although with a certain amount of trepidation because our to be read piles are getting higher and higher….


Resolutions for 2017 – a poem

Resolutions for 2017 – a poem

A Never-To-Do List


by Sarah Salway


This year, I’ll have my accounts ready
by the end of April, lose two stone;
not only will I run a half marathon
I’ll collect all my sponsorship money.
I won’t purchase new clothes
but adapt existing ones
to fit new trends, clean my oven,
my fridge will be sparkling too,
full of natural yoghurt, salads, tofu
and champagne I’ll keep for something special
not just open because there’s nothing else left.
The Gilmore Girls won’t be on permanent repeat –
in fact, I’ll watch only documentaries
and every time I click on Daily Mail Online
I’ll send a cheque to the charity
they hate the most. I’ll open my doors
to neighbours, smile at children,
meditate, be the person I always knew
I could be, not the one my mother feared,
I’ll buy no more books until I’ve read….
Wait. What?
I’ll go on orgies of book buying,
enter bookshops with my wallet wide open
and, even if I die pinned under toppling shelves,
let me always be reaching out
for just one more, last, story.

The Christmas reading party

The Christmas reading party


Inspired by this news story of how books are given – AND READ – in Iceland on Christmas eve, we had a different ‘Secret Santa’ at the Christmas party for my writing group this week. Every one picked a name of another writer from the group out of the hat, and bought a book especially for that person. It was a chance to read something different – and show me any writer who doesn’t like to get a new book! Also, as is traditional, everyone also brought along something they had written themselves to read out – we had songs, poems, bits of novels, short stories… it was a treat.

BUT this is possibly my favourite photograph of the whole year. And all the better because it is absolutely not staged – I took it just after everyone had opened their book. A perfect five minutes of silence as we read quietly on our own. My perfect party, in fact!


But that’s not to say that reading is all the writers I’m lucky enough to work with do… this year has been a bumper year, with pamphlets, books, publications and shortlistings and competition prizes. I forced some of the writers to pose with their books recently, and under the picture are some of the links to books published by these talented writers… STILL TIME TO BUY BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!


Please note, I’m not taking credit for these books – most of the writers I work with are far more talented than me and ALL the hard work is theirs BUT they come and sit round my table on Wednesdays to write with me so that means I’m allowed to shout about how great they are!

Mary Smith, A Schoolgirl’s War – this is a really lovely account of Maidstone Grammar School during wartime – with photographs, first person accounts of girls (now women!) who were there at the time, and some really wonderful paintings by the art teacher at the time. A gem.

Jess Mookherjee, The Swell – if you’ve read any poetry magazines this year, you will probably have seen Jess’s poems in them. This is her first pamphlet and it’s beautiful.

Steve Walter, When The Change Came – This is actually Steve’s third book, and he has performed his own show in both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes, but it’s his first poetry collection, and like Jess’s, it’s personal, interesting and brave.

Ellen Montelius, Rock Paper Scissors – Ellen is a graphic artist, and her presence in the group has shown us all that sometimes the hardest stories can be told with very few words, albeit carefully chosen ones…

And there are more books and publications in the pipeline…

BUT hopefully for the time we are writing together we are not thinking about publication, or book contracts, or glory. And of course we are not thinking about NOT getting any of those things either. It’s just a case of putting one word in front of the other, searching for the best word to say what we mean, finding the courage to look a little harder at what it is we want to get across, and supporting each other by listening – HARD – to what we all have written. The exercises I give are often mad, hopefully surprising, and sometimes difficult but the wonder of all my writing groups happens when everyone is generous enough to give it a go, and the energy in the room just fizzes. No wonder sometimes we need a night off just to read…


A Museum of Reading

A Museum of Reading

I’ve just finished Orhan Pamuk’s novel, The Museum of Innocence. No slim volume this…


I’ve been wanting to read it since I went to his exhibition at Somerset House. It was an exhibition of a collection of objects that became a physical manifestation of the novel.


Because this is a novel about the power of objects. And maybe how sometimes we can recreate our world through the objects that remind us of a world we might have been happier in. Objects can freeze time, after all, or transport us back or even forward to another time. Here’s the book of his museum of The Museum of Innocence.


So here is my own museum of my time reading The Museum of Innocence. First of all, and as you’ll see from the first picture, this isn’t a book that lightly fits into a handbag, so here are the views I could see from the different places at home where I read the book:

IMG_0110 IMG_0112 IMG_0107 IMG_0105 IMG_0092

Here’s the spot I finished the book, and decided to do this blog post.


This is some of the fuel I needed to read the book.


This is the squeaky gate that provided the soundtrack to the last few pages.


I planted these sweet pea seeds at the exact same time I started the book, here they are at the finish.


Here’s a lily I watched fade as I read the book. (I wish I’d taken a picture of its beauty at the start.)


But then again, here is the blossom on the apple trees. There was none when I started.


And here’s all the ironing I haven’t done as I read this book.


But at least I didn’t burn the house down.


And here’s my next book.


I was excited to see the name of the translator of The Museum of Innocence, Maureen Freely, because when I was living in Edinburgh with very small children, another mother pushed a book into my hands saying I had to read it. THIS IS US, she said. And at the time it really was. All those issues about being a mother and a feminist that weren’t being spoken about at all then, and yet here was someone actually talking about what we were going through. We loved Maureen Freely because she allowed us to start discussions for ourselves too, and so it was a pleasure to get her book down from the shelves. Now I’ll read it again and do a bit of time travel back to that time when there were times I just couldn’t see a way forward.

Btw, here’s an interesting piece by Maureen Freely about translating. In it she says this: ‘For me, it makes a welcome change from my old life, when I mainly looked after number one, wasting acres of times fretting about bylines and book sales and column inches.’ I hope by some chance she reads this, and so knows that in her ‘old life’, there were also very definitely people she helped through her words, and that her book is part of my own museum of life.