Sisterhood of the World Q & A

The immensely talented and lovely Elle tagged me for this meme, which I was very happy to answer, given that I love the sisterhood. We need to stick together, my female friends.



  1. What’s the best trait you’ve inherited from your parents?

I was going to say my work ethic, but thinking about it, my parents passed on their desire to be very supportive of family and friends and that’s probably worth more angel points.


  1. What fictional world would you live in if you could, and what character or position would you occupy within it.

I’d like to live in St Mary’s Mead, please, and be Miss Marple. I’m doing my best to train up for the role in later life, though at some point I’m going to have to tackle knitting. But I really want Dolly Bantry to be my best friend; she’s a hoot.


  1. In what situations, if at all, is it acceptable to talk through a movie?

I can think of plenty of movies I’ve been subjected to seeing by Mr Litlove that I easily could have talked through. Given a preference, I’d rather take a book along, if only someone would turn the lights up a bit.


  1. Do you think it is moral to have children?

I think it’s incredibly hard work to have children, and I think it’s a tougher job than one can ever imagine, childless, that parenting will be. I think it puts every part of your personality on trial, and will ultimately challenge many of the values you hold. You have to make a lot of sacrifices and do so willingly. So I don’t think I could ever say that people HAD to have them out of moral obligation. I think if you have them, you must do your very best by them, no matter what the circumstances. Once in situ, children force you to be moral, I think. (Though this does NOT mean that parents never behave badly, or that the childless are immoral. No. Only that children exert a certain pressure.)


  1. What is the unkindest thing you have ever done?

I wrote a post, The Lost Photo about this a while back. Read it and weep.


  1. What practical skill do you most wish you had?

I’d be happy to have any practical skills; I’m rather low on them. When I was younger, I would have liked to be able to draw. Now I’m older, I wish I were more green-fingered. I’d grow all my own vegetables if I had any talent for it.


  1. Tell us about an epiphany or “lightning bolt” moment in your life.

When I was about six months into my first ever job (marketing person for a book printers), the realisation was dawning that this was not for me. I did not like working for my bosses, I did not like keeping office hours, and I was frequently and deeply bored. And it occurred to me, that no one was forcing me to be here. It wasn’t like school or university where you have to hang on in there until the end. Now I was free to make different choices, change my mind, look for other jobs. Or indeed return to graduate studies. But what constituted the real lightning bolt was that work was a choice. So much of life you just have to put up with because you can’t do anything else. But work is not a prison; you can get up and leave. Sure you may have to take a pay cut, or move a rung down the ladder, or do some more training. I don’t think that’s a big deal, not when you consider that genuine freedom is at stake here.


  1. What is the first thing you do when you get home from work.

These days I work from home! When I was full time at college, it would be: feed the cat, feed the child, feed the husband. These days I only know I’m not working when I’m reading a book that doesn’t have to be read for review or research.


  1. How do you feel about writing in books.

I’m fine with it. I wrote in all my college books as that was how I kept track of my thoughts as I went along. I’d have been lost without those notes. Somehow, I can’t bring myself to write in books I’m reading for fun or reviewing for the blog. It doesn’t feel quite right, though I dog ear pages happily.


  1. Do you miss your hometown?

Colchester is a perfectly nice town, but I do prefer Cambridge.

Now at this point, I’m supposed to make up some questions and tag some bloggers. I’m going to do things a little differently by asking a few general questions about sisterhood that people can feel free to answer in the comments, or on their blog, or not at all. But they are questions whose responses I’m very interested in hearing.

1. What does the sisterhood mean to you, if anything?

2. Do you think women are still disadvantaged in the modern world? And if so, how?

3. Have you come across examples of ‘everyday sexism’ in your day to day life?

4. Which book would you most readily recommend as saying something important about women’s lives?

5. Supposing you and some female friends got together to create a publishing house that would be the new Virago. What sort of books would you publish?


The Fantasy Book Group

Eric over at Lonesome Reader started it, and then my friend and co-editor, Annabel, carried it on (and included George Clooney) and I found I just couldn’t resist putting together a fantasy book group myself. They were both looking for celebrities who weren’t authors but who had bookish interests. Well, my book group members probably aren’t celebrities by normal standards, but I did just about manage to avoid fiction writers (my first, immediate, mental list began Virginia Woolf, Ali Smith…). I also think it will be as much a séance as a book club…


alexandra pringleAlexandra Pringle – currently Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury, she began her career at Virago, went on to work for Hamish Hamilton and then became a literary agent for a while. Her list of authors include: Donna Tartt, Barbara Trapido, Michele Roberts, Richard Ford, Esther Freud, Jay McInerney, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd, Georgina Harding, Ann Patchett, Kate Summerscale and Elizabeth Gilbert. I bet she’d have a few pithy things to say about any book put in front of her.


eunice frostEunice Frost – initially secretary to the founder of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, she was at his side when he introduced the much-reviled paperback book. She became an editor in the late 30s and eventually a director of the company (the penguin mascot is named ‘Frostie’ after her). A worrier and a sufferer from bronchial complaints, she was known for her formidable hats. It was largely down to her that Penguin began producing original work, not just reprints. She would have a fine eye for a book, I feel sure.


roland barthesRoland Barthes – French cultural critic who was hugely influential though he never held an orthodox academic post. He wrote a great deal about his theories of reading, and it would be irresistible to have him in the group, asking: ‘So hands up who experienced jouissance when reading this text, then?’


f r leavisF. R. Leavis – I hesitated over including him in my line-up because he was such an opinionated old grump. However, you need a bit of grit in any book group to get traction in a discussion and I would put good money on this formidable literary critic stirring up some fine book talk.


miss marpleMiss Marple – Well there has to be someone there to keep any egos under control, and I felt Miss Marple, with her razor eye and her sweet old lady façade would be just the ticket. The combination of her knitting and her unassuming but devastating one-line put-downs was not to be missed. She’d have a thing or two to say about current crime fiction, I’ll bet.


So that’s my line-up. Who would be in your fantasy book group?

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award


I was immensely chuffed to find that two dear blogging friends – Susan and Annabel – had nominated me for this award (and I would nominate both of them right back if they hadn’t done this already!). It’s even more touching because I’ve been a rather intermittent blogger these past few weeks. Though that’s just been the force of circumstances, I hesitate to add. I love my blogging community and would be lost without you all and your brilliant posts and wonderful comments here.

So this award comes at the perfect time to celebrate blog friends. These are the rules:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated (15 is a few too many for me, particularly as several of the ones I would have included have nominated me so I hope 10 will do)
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you

I’ll give a special shout out to my other fellow editors at Shiny – Harriet and Simon – who are just wonderful, and then my nominees for this award (I’m supposed to have 15, but it just had to be 16 and there could have been more!), in alphabetical order:


Acid Free Pulp – just love these intelligent and thoughtful reviews.


A Gallimaufry – Helen makes me laugh every time; she is pure delight, and finds the best art, too.


A Work in Progress – should be on everyone’s Top Five Perfect Book Blogs list.


Beauty is a Sleeping Cat – great reviews and the best community readalongs.


Dolce Bellezza – one of the biggest, warmest hearted bloggers I know.


Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings – I am in awe of Karen’s seemingly effortless, wonderful reviews, and her secondhand finds!


Listenwatchreadshare – fantastic writing about books and life (and moving house!)


Mrs Carmichael – like having a drink with your funniest friend; the best family and travel adventure tales ever.


Necromancy Never Pays – brilliant reviews peppered with poems that I have a) never heard of and b) find hugely intriguing.


Novel Readings – such intelligent analyses of books; you feel smarter just being there.


Reading the End – no one reviews like Jenny; she is such an original and hilarious.


Ripple Effects – gorgeous photography and amazing film reviews; I get all my viewing recommendations here.


Shelf Love – Jenny and Teresa cover such an amazing range of books between them; and yet often they seem to be reviewing a book I’ve read or want to read.


Smithereens – what book blogging is all about, real passion for books and writing, squeezed into daily life.


So Many Books – one of the all-time great book blogs; classic and timeless.


The Curious Reader – mostly life, padded with books, and always wise and loving. I just wish blogger would let me comment more!


The Modern Idiot – social and political comment, a laugh, a rant and full-on passion all the time.


Thinking in Fragments – dangerously full of crime fiction I want to read! And deliciously readable reviews of all kinds.


And while I’m at it, I have to send love to Lilian and Pete, who do blog, but not often enough (because they are particularly busy!).

I’m supposed to add seven facts about me. But guys, I’ve been blogging for 8 years here – I don’t think there’s anything you don’t know by now! Though if there’s anything you want to know, you only have to ask.


The Liebster Award

The charming and hugely talented Andrew Blackman tagged me for this meme:

1. What’s your favourite memory?

It was early one morning and I was lying reading in bed, about five months pregnant. The phone rang and it was one of my mentors from the university. He’d rung to tell me the results were out and I’d come top of the Mphil group that year. I’d taken a big risk returning to college for graduate work, and I’d loved it: it had felt so easy and right and natural. Now here was an unexpected but wonderful reward. I didn’t leap about or scream or rush off to celebrate; I simply felt enveloped by this deep, peaceful serenity. I’ve never experienced anything like it since.

2. Why do you blog?

I began blogging when I was off long-term sick from college with chronic fatigue. I was used to talking about books from one end of the day to another and I really missed it. But then I began to enjoy writing in a more unconstrained style, and suddenly here was this wonderful community of people whom I was getting to know better each day. For all these reasons, I love it still and I couldn’t give it up.

3. What’s your most unrealistic ambition?

I’ve always found it hard to watch people suffer, which has led to a career of attempting to fix them and their problems. In the past few years it has dawned on me that people are essentially unfixable. Or at least, they have to do it all by themselves. No amount of help and support from me will ever change another human being by as much as an atom, unless they are absolutely determined to make a difference to their own lives. In fact, personal change is extremely hard to accomplish at all, even with good will and tenacity. I would have loved to make everybody I’ve come into contact with that little bit happier and wiser, but I rather think it was too much to hope for.

4. What makes you angry?

I really hate the way internet forums promote pathologically vicious and unkind attacks on people and ideas. It’s scary, the level of hatred and malice that people will bring forth under cover of anonymity, and defend as the right to ‘to have an opinion’. Derren Brown, who performs some very interesting psychological experiments on television set up a mock game show, in which a studio audience decided what would happen to some hapless individual whose evening out was being transmitted to them via webcam. Repeatedly, Brown offered the audience the choice of making a nice thing or an unpleasant thing happen to him. In fact it was the audience on trial, as every single time, they chose the unpleasant thing and took delight in the stooge’s suffering, right up to the point where he was run over by a car. Derren Brown was pointing out how easily the mob mentality takes hold of a crowd, how they egg each other on and ratchet up the suffering. It’s the sort of thing I think we ought to be horrified by, (and Derren Brown made the point brilliantly) not encourage as acceptable and ordinary behaviour.

5. What’s your biggest regret?

I will always be sorry not to have had another child. But it just was never an option, and I’ve been extremely lucky with the one I do have. It’s his 18th birthday today. *wipes away a happy tear*

6. Why do you like reading?

How long have you got?

7. Write a mini school report for the human race. What grade would you give us, and what suggestions for improvement?

In technology, continues to forge ahead, but has an unfortunate tendency to treat the humanities with disdain. Shows surprising strength and resilience in a crisis, but can be lacking sympathy and understanding when it comes to ordinary day-to-day woes. Still, alas, a tendency to lash out with violence when thwarted, rather than stop, think, and use words to resolve issues. Overly concerned with the superficial and the short-term, in a way that belies the genuine intelligence and wisdom that teachers know are readily available. Resistant to change when it comes to long-term flaws and failings. C+

Now I’m supposed to create 7 questions and tag 7 people.

1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?

2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?

3. Describe your ideal home library/study.

4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.

5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?

6.  What’s the last book you did not finish and why?

7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?

And tagging, hmmm, let’s try to find people who are newish about here: Desperate Reader, Bellezza, Helen, Nooks & Crannies, Miss Darcy, Mrs Carmichael and Karen. And anyone else who feels like it!