Monday, October 31, 2011

Slipstream' by Elizabeth Jane Howard

'The Oliva Reader' is supposed to be a book reviewing blog. In reality, the last few months have shown no sign of a review, good or otherwise. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it's because I have been too lazy to sit at a computer and write something. Seeing as there are a small group of you who take the time to visit the blog (of which I am very grateful), it's time that I make more time and effort, to try and give you something half decent to read.

The first book that I am going to talk about is Elizabeth Jane Howard's memoir 'Slip stream'. Having already read and enjoyed Howard's thriller 'Falling', someone commented that I should read Howard's autobiography and I took their advice. So here's my review:

Publisher: Pan Macmillan


477 pages

What the 'blurb' says:

'In this candid and remarkable memoir, Elizabeth Jane Howard tells the story of her eventful life, using her skills as a novelist to reveal the friends, family and times that she has known and loved........

'Slipstream' is a superlative word of autobiography. Honest and unflinching, it brilliantly illuminates the literary world of the latter half of the twentieth century and gives a deeply personal insight into the life of one of our most beloved British writers.'

Opening Line:

'The first thing I can remember is a dream.'

What's right about this novel?

One of things that I enjoyed the most about this book, was the style of Howard's writing. It's conversational and it makes the reader feel as if Howard is having a chat with you.

I also found, being a budding writer myself, that I could relate to Howard's sense of insecurity to do with writing and also in some places, in life itself. I thought that it was interesting to read about the series of events, which lead to Howard writing her novel 'Falling' and was interested to discover what influenced Howard's writing.

What's wrong with this novel?

Throughout the book, I found myself increasingly exasperated by the fact that Howard repeatedly made the same mistakes with men, without seemingly learning from it. Possibly this shows the complexities of human nature, but I found that I felt frequently annoyed by this.

Although some of Howard's encounters with famous stars were interesting, towards the end of the book I found the 'name dropping' to be a little tiresome. It also felt as a reader, that it was as if Howard was telling me about people that I should know, but didn't. This I found to be a little boring.

Is this worth a read?

To be honest, I wouldn't have chosen this book. It was mildly interesting, but didn't give me the insight into writing, that I was anticipating.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chapters In My Life -Week 5

This week on 'Chapters In My Life', Melissa from 'This Too...' is sharing the 5 books, which make up the chapters of her life....

The first book I remember being enamored with is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read it as a young girl and the story set my imagination free. I wanted nothing more than to discover a hidden key that opened up a place to call my very own. The story has always stayed with me. Its message, so simple and beautiful, it remains one of my firmest beliefs: We can help things grow.

I knew I wanted to be a writer after I read The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was thirteen, the same age as Anne when she began her diary. And I spent most of my young life wondering what so many young people wonder, why will no one listen to me? This book taught me that writing is a way to be heard. That, even after an unimaginable tragedy, words can hold on tight to a too-short life and find their way into the hearts and minds of so many.

At this point in my life, my reading habits became a little strange and unfocused (a Bronte sister one day, Stephen King the next). But I liked it that way. I read anything I could get my hands on and I became fascinated with reading (rather than seeing) plays.

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee changed everything I thought about the way you could tell a story. All of these extraordinary conversations were happening over bottomless glasses of scotch. People were yelling and crying and playing terrifying mind games with one another. One story was unfolding on the surface and another, an even darker one, was quietly marinating beneath. This play taught me that the best stories are not straightforward. That people say one thing and mean another. I had never read anything like it and when I finally saw it performed…well…I was blown away.

I’m going to admit that things got pretentious in my reading life when I started college. I took postmodernist literature classes, read Dostoyevsky, and convinced myself that I was really something. To be honest, I did not understand anything I read over those years. Very little of it has stayed with me and I really struggle to find a book that captures this time.

I sat with Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and knew that what I was reading was just so epic. So very huge. There was too much of her philosophy that I did not understand or necessarily agree with. But it didn’t matter. I was so caught up in the detailed world of this book that I dreamt of it, feverishly, for weeks afterwards. I put it on this list because it represents that time in my life best. I thought I was a lot bigger than I was. I wanted a book like that to mean something to me. I’d like to think it does even if I’m not smart enough to know why.

After school, I began to take my writing and reading much more seriously. I wanted to truly understand the kind of stories I loved. It took a while but I found it when I read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. She tells quiet stories that have loud consequences. She takes small moments and makes them life-sized. Her words take my breath away because she always says things exactly the way I wish I knew how.

Melissa is a writer and producer living in Brooklyn, NY. After working in television production for several years, on the sets of live televised events, promos, commercials, and reality tv, she made the switch to children’s media. Now, she writes and produces content for toys and interactive games. When she's not writing elegant prose for preschoolers, she writes novels and short stories. She blogs at 'This Too...'

Friday, October 28, 2011

Word of The Week

I learnt this word last night, at my local quiz:

Ort: Usually, orts. a scrap or morsel of food left at a meal.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Snippet

Page 237- 'They ride the next twenty storeys in silence. Beside her Stephanie Shaw stands smart, petite in a crisp white shirt- no, not a shirt, a blouse- tight black pencil skirt, a neat little bob, years away from the sullen Goth who sat next to her in tutorial all that time ago, and Emma is surprised to find herself intimidated by her old acquaintance; her professional demeanour, her no-nonsense manner. Stephanie Shaw has probably sacked people.'

'One Day' by David Nicholls

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chapers In My Life- Week 4

It's already week 4 of 'Chapters In my Life' can you believe it!? This week, Mike from 'The Blue Cabin' is going to talk about the 5 books which have influenced his life:

Many thanks, Spangle, for inviting me to post. Selecting five life-changing books has been hugely enjoyable, albeit a lesson in discipline, even ruthlessness! Five books… where on earth do you start? I decided to follow the brief literally; that’s to say, if I loved a book for its narrative, its use of language, rhythm or whatever, it was a contender – but unless in some way it also changed my life, or at least my thinking, it was consigned, with great regret, to the Rejects pile.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn’s own experience in the Russian penal system made this story of oppression, suffering and survival so brutally real that I remember feeling sick when I first read it as a teenager. It had the same shock value within Russia, because until its publication in 1962 no-one had dared to describe the gulags or even to admit their existence. Largely because of Ivan Denisovich, my favourite charity has always been Amnesty International. That the Soviet literary journal New World was allowed to publish the book at all is down to Nikita Khrushchev (I’m not sure he gets enough credit), and it is arguable that Ivan Denisovich opened another chink in the Iron Curtain which led, eventually, to the collapse of communism itself. When you add to its historical importance the novel’s beautifully spare and uncontrived prose, it easily qualifies for my top five.

Reporting America – Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America, 1946-2004

I may be cheating a little, as this is a collection; also, it was the actual broadcasts that changed my life, not the book. Still. I began listening to Letter from America on a Sunday morning – you could say religiously – in the 1970s, and I rarely missed a broadcast from then until Cooke’s death in 2004. I have a fascination with America anyway, but it was the use of language that kept me glued to the radio. I don’t know if anyone wrote with greater elegance or economy, and if I ever find myself staring at a blank sheet of paper, I reach for my thoroughly dog-eared copy of the collection. Cooke himself said that of the many great speeches written by statesmen and others, the best were written to be spoken and heard – not read. On a personal note, aside from the pleasure of Cooke’s inimitably silken delivery, I always knew that wherever I was at 8.45 on a Sunday morning, in some sense my mother was there too, because she was addicted like me.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992)

This epic novel of adventure, revenge, loyalty, love, tenderness and violence, set in Texas and New Mexico and following the exploits of cowhand John Grady Cole, sixteen going on thirty-five, was a complete revelation for me. Until All The Pretty Horses, I thought that outside the realms of blank verse, punctuation was an indispensable tool in any writer’s search for rhythm and flow – but McCarthy eschews it almost entirely and the result is mesmerizing. To be honest, it’s hard to see how he does it, he is so artful and his use of language so individual, but All The pretty Horses is another book (any McCarthy will do, if you can handle the unrelenting bleakness of most of his other stories) that I reach for when I’m stuck.

The House at Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church (University of New Mexico Press, 1973)

I’ve blogged about this classic of Southwestern literature before (here) and so has Spangle (here), so I know we both enjoyed the read! It is the beautifully-told true story of Edith Warner, a wise, compassionate and thoroughly likeable woman from Pennsylvania who settled at the Otowi switch on the Rio Grande, in Northern New Mexico, in 1925. She opened a tearoom in her front parlour, and for a few fascinating years shared her otherwise quiet life with the Pueblo Indians of San Ildefonso on the one side, and the nuclear scientists of Los Alamos (the Manhattan Project) on the other. The juxtaposition of such wildly different cultures and the potential for their mutual accommodation as personified by Edith Warner, makes for an inspirational and life-affirming read. For me, coming from Northern Ireland, it epitomises the need to transcend tribalism and to live and let live.

Jock Of The Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick

Again, I’ve blogged about this book before (here). Jock is the story, set in the goldfields of the Transvaal in the 1880s, of a plucky and intensely loyal little dog, and owes its existence to a suggestion made to the author by his friend Rudyard Kipling. It’s exciting, funny and poignant by turns, and you’re looking for a copy I would make sure it has Edmund Calwell’s illustrations. A beautifully rebound edition of this, my favourite of favourites, was given to me by my mother as an engagement present in 1990, and it’s open in front of me at the Dedication page: ‘The Story of Jock (is dedicated) to Those Keenest and Kindest of Critics, Best of Friends, and Most Delightful of Comrades: The Likkle People’.

Perhaps a year ago, rather bizarrely, I was asked in an interview to name three books I loved and three I hated. I had no trouble with the first part, but as an author I’m uncomfortable with the idea of criticising anyone’s honest writing endeavours – so in the end I fudged it. I need a thicker skin. As an unnamed philosopher wisely said:

‘Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticise them, you are a mile away and you have their shoes.’

Like everyone else, I thought this was Jack Handey. It’s not, but it gives me the opportunity to slip a sixth book in by the back door: Deepest Thoughts by Jack Handey, because it always lightens the moment.

Michael Faulkner is the author of two books about island life: The Blue cabin – Living by the Tides on Islandmore (Blackstaff Press, 2006) and Still On The Sound – A Seasonal Look at Island Life (Blackstaff Press, 2009). He lives with his artist wife Lynn McGregor on the otherwise uninhabited island of Islandmore, Strangford Lough. For background on the books go to 'The Blue Cabin' website , and if you’re interested in a daily snapshot of island life, 'The Blue Cabin' blog.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Word of The Week

Loll- 1.To recline or lean in a relaxed, lazy, or indolent manner; lounge.
To hang loosely; droop; dangle.
To allow to hang, droop, or dangle.

The act of lolling.
A person or thing that lolls.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Snippet

I'm tempted to see the film version of 'One Day' by David Nicholls. However, I'm enjoying the novel version so much, that I don't think that the film with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, will live up to the image of Emma and Dexter in my head. Have you seen this film? Is the film as good as the novel? I'd be interested to hear your views on it.

Here's a 'snippet':

Page 188: 'Heart thumping, soaked with sweat, Dexter was woken just after midday by a man bellowing outside, but it turned out to be M People.'

'One Day' by David Nicholls

Whatever you are doing, enjoy what's left of the weekend. I have just acquired a new mobile phone, so a big portion of my weekend has been taken up by trying to figure out how it works! I'm hoping to get some reading done.... if I can tear myself away from my phone.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chapters In My Life -Week 3

This week on 'Chapters In My Life', blogger and author Deborah Lawrenson is going to choose 5 books, which have had an influence in her life:

L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. This heartbreaking tale of a laundress comes with the harsh moral that even the best and hardest-working are not immune from the tragedy of the demon drink. I first read this when I was about fifteen, living in Brussels. It belongs to that time in every teenager’s life when anything seems possible if you want it enough, and as I was fiercely competitive academically, I was an ambitious reader. I think I may have attempted it in French first, but had to give up. The edition that survives on my bookshelves from that era is the Penguin classic, at any rate. L’Assommoir had a huge impact, in the way it portrays life’s terrible unfairness.

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. Sharp, sly and mischievous, this is a glorious send-up of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. It was one of the first novels to have a cinematic quality, for example in the depiction of a party scene that swoops from one side of the room to the other, assassinating all characters in its “flying” narrator’s path, all in the space of a paragraph. Waugh also uses telephone conversation in a way that was innovative in its time, to great comic effect. This was the book that lit the spark of writing my first novel. In my twenties I worked for a while on Nigel Dempster’s newspaper gossip column – a great fun job for a young journalist, meeting film stars and the louche cast of aristos and arrivistes featured on the page. I always knew that milieu would make the basis of a book, and when I saw how Waugh had done it, I knew I had to try to write a modern version. (It didn’t quite turn out how I envisaged, but that’s another story!)

Mary Swann by Carol Shields. Pulitzer prizewinner Shields is such a fine writer. Her novels are intelligent and engaging, even when the subject matter is quiet. Mary Swann is my favourite: a story of a Canadian housewife who wrote poetry but is murdered by her husband before she is published. It’s a literary quest, on one level, as four diverse people who knew her, or know her work, try to unravel the secrets of her writing life.
This is the kind of writing I love to read: flowing, full of intelligence, yet understated – and the kind of writing I aspire to achieve. My favourite of her novels, this is a quietly gripping story of literary detection.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes. Epic voyages, history, art, survival and philosophy are explored in this marvellous book through a series of linked stories, starting at a slant with the re-telling of Noah’s Ark through the eyes of a stowaway woodworm. I have very happy memories of this book and a holiday in Antigua, when my husband and I had been married a year. We both read it, and one evening we started talking about its various themes while sipping a first cocktail, and were still discussing it over late-night coffee. It seemed the perfect scenario: a lovely island, a lovely book, and a lovely clever husband who was interested in the same books and issues I was.

Prospero’s Cell by Lawrence Durrell. No-one does spellbinding nostalgia and spirit of place quite like Durrell. Here is a slim book that masquerades as a diary/notebook of the time he spent on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s – the same material shaped in a very different way by his younger brother, the zoologist Gerald Durrell in his comic masterpiece, My Family and Other Animals. Lawrence’s version of those island years is an elegy to lost youth and his first wife (never even mentioned by Gerald) in a dazzling sensory recreation, gilded by distance and rosy memory. It was this difference between the two brothers’ accounts that was the beginning of a wonderful book trail, through both their biographies and on to the many autobiographical works by other writers they knew, that resulted in my fifth novel, Songs of Blue and Gold.

[You might find it disingenuous that I haven’t mentioned Daphne du Maurier, Charlotte or Emily Brontë. I can only say that that I’ve explained in plenty of other spaces this summer about the influence of Rebecca and the gothic tradition on The Lantern, and wanted to give something in addition to that here.

You can read Deborah's blog here.

Deborah's latest novel 'The Lantern' is available on , and all good book shops.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Word of The Week

Cosmogony: The theory or story of the origin and development of the universe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday

This photo is a little blurry, but seeing the Lemars was one of my favourite parts of the visit to 'Bioparc' in Valencia last week. The lemars are not in cages, they live freely in a forest and it's the visitor's job to find them. When I first entered the Lemar area I didn't see anything, but suddenly I looked up and this one was looking straight at me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Snippet

When beginning to read 'One Day' by David Nicholls, I was ready to hate it. However, I am really enjoying this book. It's very funny and not at all the cheesy 'chick lit' I was anticipating. Here's a 'snippet':

Page 156: 'Emma turns, pads back to bed and lies there listening grumpily to the farming forecast and, in the background, the flush of a toilet, then another flush. Eventually he appears in the doorway, red-faced and martyred. He is wearing no underwear and a black t-shirt that stops a little above his hips. There isn't a man in the world that can carry off this look, but even so Emma makes a conscious effort to keep her eyes focussed on his face, as he slowly blows air out through his mouth.'

'One Day' by David Nicholls.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chapters In My Life -Week 2

This week on 'Chapters In My Life', Jen from 'Unedited' ( is going to tell us about her list of 5 books which have influenced her life:

Thanks for having me Spangle!

I’m Jen, I is a girl, I’m twenty-five, I’m married, and have two kitties (who are great listeners). I’m a data ninja by day and a writer by night. I is a lover of chick lit, cupcakes and cocktail. I don’t read books, I devour them.
Here are the five books that influenced who I am today.

The Red Heels by Robert D. San Souci – I was eleven, it was then I should have known I’d be a writer, but it took me thirteen years later! I saw this book at the scholastic book fair at my school in Iowa. Next to it they mentioned the author and illustrator would be available to sign it. I knew I had to have that book. My sisters (nine and ten at the time), helped raise money for me to buy it. The best sixteen dollars I’ve ever spent. I read it every year; it’s about a shoemaker who visits houses to make shoes and falls in love with a witch who wears her red heeled shoes to fly each night.

Roald Dahl (Yes, I’m cheating) – From Matilda, The BFG, to The Twits, Roald Dahl shapes young minds from the beginning. I’ve read many of his books and each one I loved for the lessons you learn. For Matilda it’s about being independent, but also allowing someone to love you, as you want to be loved. I learned so many wonderful things from Mr. Dahl; I couldn’t imagine a day without him. My children will read these books, and I hope my children’s children will.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips (The Chicago Series – This Heart of Mine) – This one I’ll unfortunately be cheating on as well. SEP taught me to LOVE romance. She is the one who brought me back to life and showed me I could be anything I wanted to be. She taught me, I wanted to write for a living. I wanted to sweep people up in books and let them laugh, cry, and eat a carton of ice cream and not feel bad about it. If you want a great romance that melts your heart, you’ll want to pick up her novels, they’re addicting.

On Writing by Stephen King – This man is badass! Everyone has that one writing book they tell people about… this one, is mine. He doesn’t teach you how to set up your plot, write your characters, even finish a novel, he just shares his story. The depths of emotions he went through. The trials he endured to write a novel. The amount of times he gave up, and when he decided to call himself a writer. He allows you to think for yourself all while sharing his story. This really shed light on writing, and the chaos and insanity that ensues.

See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski & Farrin Jacobs – These girls melt my heart. The geniuses they are putting together an amazing How-to book. If you’re looking for the depths of chick lit, from the plots, to the characters, these writers will change your life.

Those are the five books (I realize I cheated) I heart. I could name many more, from Harry Potter to several other YA novels that changed my life, but these, these will stay in my heart and on the shelves for years to come. For a rainy day when the writings tough, or when my confidence is down, these books were made for me.

Thanks Jen, you have made some great choices!

Come back next Saturday for another 'Chapters In My Life'.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Word of The Week

This week's 'Word of The Week' is dedicated to my friend Peter, who sadly passed away on Tuesday:

Friend: a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Snippet

I've decided to abandon 'The Long Song' by Andrea Levy for the time being. I read to about page 30 and became increasingly annoyed by the almost light hearted attitude that Levy was taking, concerning the issue of slavery. Maybe I'm not in the right frame of mind to read this so now, I'm starting 'One Day' by David Nicholls.

I have tried to resist reading this novel, because it seems like everyone has been reading this. With the release of the film adaptation, I looked at the trailers and it just didn't seem like my kind of thing.

So why are you reading this? you may be asking. Well, a friend of mine has just read 'One Day' and like myself, didn't think that it would be her cup of tea. However, she loved it. She liked it so much, that she has passed her copy on to me. So I have to decided to jump on the 'One Day' bandwagon and read this.

Here's the first line of 'One Day':

Page 3: 'Rankeillor Street, Edinburgh

'I suppose the important thing is to make some sort of difference,' she said. 'You know, actually change something.'

'One Day' by David Nicholls

Have you read 'One Day'? Is it worth the hype? (No spoilers please!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chapters In My Life -Week 1

Welcome to a new weekly feature called 'Chapters In My Life'. Over the next few months, I'm going to be asking guest bloggers to choose 5 books which have been influential, in both their working and personal lives. There are some wonderful guest bloggers lined up to participate in this new series but for starters, it's my turn to tell you about my 5 chosen books.

Before undertaking this, I thought that I would be easy to choose 5 books. However there are so many that I could have chosen from, that it was nearly impossible! Here are the 5 books that have made it into the 'Chapters in My Life':

'Winnie The Pooh' by A.A Milne

My first choice 'Winnie The Pooh', was the first book I ever owned at about the age of 3 or 4 years old. This book introduced me to the world of books and imagination. Even though I was unable to read at the time, I would spend hours looking at the illustrations.

The copy I owned was hard back, covered in a rough orange material and had a gold embossed illustration of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin on the front. Inside, was a detailed map of where Winnie The Pooh and his friends had their adventures. The story was so vivid, that I remember playing 'Pooh Sticks' on a bridge my mum and I had to cross, to get to my hospital appointments. I will always remember 'Winnie the Pooh' fondly, because it helped me to bring adventure into my life, even when it was not physically possible for me, in the real world.

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Roald Dahl.

In my opinion, Roald Dahl is one of the greatest children's writers ever. I was first introduced to Dahl's novels when I was about 6 or 7 years old, during reading practise at school. After reading all of the 'Janet and John' type books, we were allowed to choose other titles in the library to read from.

Once I had started with 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory' I was hooked and read every Roald Dahl book I could lay my hands on. However I loved 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' so much, I had my own copy at home. When I was supposed to be sleeping, I would read the book from cover to cover in the moonlight and then once I had finished, would start all over again. I would never get bored of this book. As I reached my teens I passed the book on to my niece, who loved it as much as I did. I think that every child should have the opportunity to read 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory' and any other of Dahl's fantastical children's books, because they are not condescending and transport children into wild and wacky adventures.

The 'Point Horror' series.

When I reached about the age of 12 or 13, I became addicted to any book that was dark and scary. The 'Point' series of books were divided into many different genres (Point Crime, Point Romance etc...), but I mainly read the horror collection of novels. They were quite silly books, mainly revolving around cheerleaders and babysitters, but I devoured all of them. I suppose they were the 90's equivalent of the 'Twilight Saga'. I think what makes this type of literature popular with teenagers (mainly girls), is that they don't just deal with the mysterious, but also they subtly deal with issues such as growing up etc.

'Misery' By Stephen King

From my 'Point Horror' phase, I progressed to reading Stephen King novels. This was the time when I began to write more and also to deconstruct novels, to find out how they were written. I still particularly like Stephen King's 'Misery' because not only it is a brilliant read, but also King gives an insight into how a writer goes about creating characters and stories. Being an apiring writer myself, I can relate to the character because his thoughts processes when writing, are the same as mine.

'Emotionally Weird' by Kate Atkinson

'Emotionally Weird' was given to me by a friend, to take on holiday. I had never heard of Kate Atkinson before, but thought that I would give it a go. What I discovered, was a wonderful writer who can combine suspense, humour and a multi stranded story that did not confuse, but made me want to read more.

From this first novel I have read many Kate Atkinson's novels and I love the 'Jackson Brodie' series the most. Not being a fan of traditional crime fiction writers for example Agatha Christie, the Jackson Brodie novels are easily accessible and concentrate on human nature, as well as being a 'whodunnit'.

Kate Atkinson's ability to manipulate a complex plot, with realistic, likeable characters is something I aspire to, as a writer.

Well these are my choices. Come back next Saturday for another 'Chapters In My Life'.