Posts Tagged ‘books’

# 73 Audiobooks – the new rock n roll

In books on January 31, 2011 at 3:10 pm

There’s something almost paradoxical about audiobooks: on the one hand they hark back to our most primitive oral traditions and childhood memories of being read bedtime stories, while at the same time exploiting the latest technology by being available to download straight to your iPod, bypassing the invention of the printing press completely.

Audible, ‘the UK’s largest provider of downloadble audiobooks’, even has an instant download app for iPhones and Android. No longer the preserve of the Large Print section of the local public lending library, audiobooks are the new rock ‘n’ roll. Read the rest of this entry »


#67 Review of the year

In review of the year on December 31, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Books I wish I’d written

Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate

Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus

Jonathan Coe’s The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Read the rest of this entry »

#66 National Short Story Day

In books on December 20, 2010 at 11:19 pm

The 21 December is officially my least favourite day of the year, but at the same time, in a strange way, also my favourite.

Being the shortest day in terms of daylight hours, it is inherently depressing and barely worth getting up for.

But it also marks the point from when the days will begin to get longer. Imperceptibly so at first, I grant you, but it is the principle that matters. It is the beginning of the end of the gloom, the start of light coming back into our lives, the idea that there might be things to look forward to on the horizon. Read the rest of this entry »

#56 Oh dear…

In midlife on August 28, 2010 at 11:41 am

There’s nothing like being on the cover of a magazine to make you realise how old you look. Even with all that photoshopping, tonnes of slap, and sucking my belly in really hard, I’m still thinking: fewer pies, more expensive moisturiser. Read the rest of this entry »

#53 The Midlife Manual

In midlife on August 6, 2010 at 10:46 am

With The Midlife Manual due for publication on 2 September (‘Don’t turn 40 without it!’), my co-author and I are now obliged to start blogging, tweeting, facebooking, and no doubt stumbling, digging and didgeridoing by way of trying to raise its profile enough to encourage someone to buy it.

As we are continuously being told: ‘no one buys books any more’. In fact my co-writer was made redundant from his position of Books Editor of a leading listings magazine for precisely this reason, though strangely (and perhaps illegally?) I notice they have since employed a new ‘books editor’ suggesting that even if people don’t buy books, they still want to read them. Just as people no longer want to pay for music, but they will always want to listen to it.

Sadly we are no Radiohead and can’t afford to offer our creative output for download at a nominal 1p (plus we happen to like the physicality of a book), so the socially networked marketing campaign must begin. Read the rest of this entry »

#42 A year of living frugally

In Homeworking, Jobseeking on April 26, 2010 at 10:29 am

It was this time last year that I realised that I was unemployed. My last book (The World’s Greatest Cities, since you ask) had finally gone to press after a full on couple of months, and the other small writing jobs had been filed. It is a common experience for the freelance to come to the end of bouts of intense work and realise that you haven’t had time to line the next things up. But in the past, something had always turned up. Not this time.

As is standard practice, I dropped a line to all my contacts letting them know I was free, pitched a few ideas, applied for some jobs. But nothing. Then more pitching and applying. More nothing. And so on… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

A year on and I can talk it all up as a ‘learning experience’. I’ve used the time to trim budgets, making us a leaner fitter household not weighed down by too many  financial commitments allowing us all to keep our options open. I finally embarked on a printmaking course at one of our wonderful adult education colleges that the Tories will probably kill off (Morley College), and felt the thrill of learning new things again.

I’ve toured secondary schools exhaustively and been heartened by the improving standards of the state system, despite received opinion otherwise. I’ve subsequently got my daughter into a local school that’s just been judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (from being a no-go zone a decade ago) without even having to temporarily rent a house in the catchment area, fake a separation from my husband, or pretend I go to church.

I’ve realised that I don’t actually miss those interminable meetings that seem to take up 50% of office life – it’s a relief to be able just to get on and do stuff. I’ve been to careers workshops, sent my details round agencies and signed up for every jobs websites. I’ve realised that filling in job applications and looking for work is even harder than a full-time job – at least with a job you get holidays. I’ve done some really dull stuff for the money which has freed up time to do some really interesting stuff for none. I’ve taken heart from all the entrepreneurial things I’ve seen my friends doing and stopped thinking the world owes me a living.

I’ve gone from being antisocially miserable to artificially chirpy, reasoning that sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to solve anything. Most importantly, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my career has hit the buffers and needs to follow a different track, but found that the change of scenery is actually quite pleasant.

I’ve talked to lots of other people who are at different points on the same journey: some still at the stage of despairing that there doesn’t seem to be anything out there, others well ahead of me and now enjoying hard-won success after a period of gloom. Some contemplating that leap into the unknown (go on, jump!).

The past 12 months have been bloody hard work, and will continue thus, but that’s how it should be. Friends, family and former colleagues have been incredibly supportive (thank you!) and even put some work my way (thank you again!). Though my earnings for the last tax year have been pitiful, almost half came in the first three months of this year, which I hope means things are picking up for all of us.

My next book – writing this time, not editing! – is due to be filed at the end of May; another proposal is with an agent. And I’m so busy for the next month I’m even going to have to get some temporary childcare.

#28 Orchids on Your Budget

In Gratuitous nostalgia, Save cash on January 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

Browsing in Foyles the other day, I came across this charming little book in the ‘thrift’ section. It preempts HTBUTWCW by some 70 years.

First published in 1937, Orchids on Your Budget (subtitle: ‘Live smartly on what you have’) told Depression era New Yorkers how to economise on money, without economising on style.

It was displayed alongside some other reissued facsimiles (this seems to be a trend – presumably a cheap way for publishers to capitalise on works that are now out of copyright – but a nice trend) on frugal living. Some of you may be interested in Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps by Claude Goodchild and Alan Thompson (first published in 1941 and retailing at 1/6) which features step by step photos of how to kill and skin a rabbit, or Richard Mabey’s beautifully illustrated 1972 foragers’ bible Food for Free.

Back to Manhattan ladies… Written by Marjorie Hillis, who had already made her name with the best-selling Live Alone and Like It, ‘Orchids…’  is packed with sage advice on matters such as: how to assemble a smart wardrobe (the key is some cheap house-frocks, a smart black dress, and shoe-trees); downshifting your lifestyle; getting a job; the importance of face cream; and whether or not you can afford a husband.

She writes:

‘An astonishing number of the people you know, probably including yourself, insist that they have to do a lot of economising… This isn’t because of the size of their incomes, or the lack of size; it’s because they haven’t as much money as they wish they had, which would be true no matte what their income… What most people don’t concede is that, with a little planning and a dash of ingenuity, they might have what they want.’

‘A slight financial pressure sharpens the wits, though it needn’t sharpen the disposition. But it takes an interesting person to have an attractive ménage on a shoestring and to run it with gaiety and charm.’

‘It’s not difficult to have fun out of economising, both because of the sense of accomplishment it gives you, and because everybody else is doing it too. Today, in the smartest houses, you are apt to find ten-cent-store glass mixed with Crown Derby China and the hostess boasting about it. Ladies of unlimited means have themselves a time in bargain basements and second-hand shops and tell about it to anyone who will listen. They tell, because that kind of shopping takes wit instead of money, and wit is a far less common commodity.’

‘There are economies that nobody can afford unless they are so poor in purse and spirit that they don’t care much anyway, and there are forms of thrift that are so expensive that not even a millionaire can pay for them. First and foremost among these little errors is the extravagance of Letting Yourself Go.’

‘It is a regrettable, but undeniable, fact that the most delightful people are seldom big money makers.’

‘The point nowadays is not merely to know the cost of a thing and whether or not you have the money to pay for it, but whether it’s worth the price to you.’

‘Any wardrobe that doesn’t have a dress that makes you feel as pretty an elegant as you can possibly feel is a wash-out.’

I could go on, but the book is quite short and I’d end up typing out most of it. The crux is that, as Marjorie counsels, there is no social stigma in not having money, and ‘budgeting’ doesn’t have to mean giving up hope, or nice cheese, or orchids (ok, perhaps during periods when things are really tight), it is about thinking about what really matters to you, and employing a little intelligence, ingenuity and effort to balancing your life as well as your budget.

The smarter lady, in both senses of the word, will, she says, relish the challenge.

#19 Gifts for the Doley in your life

In Down and Out, Tips on December 21, 2009 at 11:14 am
A few topical gifts for the Doley in your life:
Technically I suppose we should all be either sending charity cards to help other people, or e-cards to help the environment, or better still e-charity cards such as those from Shelter. (I especially like the one where you can click on the reindeers’ noses to hear them whistle Once in Royal David’s City.)
However, these from Manchester-based design group peddling  Christmas by Colour seem to sum up the prevailing mood.  Or at least the red one does. Sadly the C100 M75 Y2 K17 (dark blue) Mayfair and Park Lane card may be more appropriate next year. £3.95 for a pack of 6 or £11.95 for two packs of each set.
And because they are produced by just a samll independent northern design outfit trying to make their way in a harsh world, they could be argued to be a charitable cause.
Mrs Scrooge by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Posy Simmonds (£4.99 Pan Macmillan)

The uplifting little tale of cuddly eco-warrior Mrs Scrooge  that will make you appreciate Christmas and good poetry. Some of Mrs Scrooge’s husbandry might feel familiar to those who’ve also been watching the pennies this year:

‘She hated waste, consumerism, Mrs Scrooge foraged

in the London parks for chestnuts, mushrooms, blackberries,

ate leftovers, recycled, mended, passed on, purchased secondhand,

turned the heating down and put on layers, walked everywhere,

drank tap-water, used public libraries, possessed a wind-up radio,

switched of lights, lit candles (darkness is cheap and Mrs Scrooge

liked it) and would not spend one penny on a plastic bag.’

Make do and Mend. An updated version of the Wartime classic from (who else?) the people’s republic of  John Lewis. I quite like the tips about cleaning your shoes with banana skins, freezing leftover wine (as if) for cooking, keeping tomatoes in the fruit bowl, and using mint as fly repellent, but perhaps the most middle class tip must be :

‘To shift stubborn deposits at the bottom of wine decanter, add crushed eggshells and a little water, swill briskly, turn out and rinse well.’ Doesn’t say whether the eggs should be barn laid or from which bird. Organic duck eggs ok?

Proof that socialist principles are not incompatible with a bourgeois lifestyle. Sadly they’d sold out yesterday when I went to buy a job lot for friends.

Why Not Socialism? GA Cohen Princeton University Press (£10.99)

Possibly the clearest argument for socialism, beautifully and wittily written, especially the chapter setting out the case for socialism in terms of a camping trip. Plus, it allows anyone down on their luck to parade newly-imposed lifestyle choices (such as state education or public transport) and political and ethical badges of honour. It’s a huge loss that leading political philosopher ‘Jerry’ Cohen died unexpectedly  of a stroke in August, just before this book was published. But brilliantly titled works such as If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? live on.

Cuffs, wrist warmers, finger-and-thumbless gloves… whatever you want to call them, these allow you to keep typing through winter without having to give in and put the central heating on. One friend I gave them to says it’s a bit like wearing a long-sleeved studenty jumper, without having to be a student. They are also achingly on-trend (according to a piece I read in the Standard). I got mine (cashmere, pink) for a tenner from my friend Lou who has a Saturday stall at Greenwich Market. See, again selflessly helping the independent designer/maker.

Home-made marmalade, £2. Not made in my home, obviously, but bought at the school Christmas fair. Comfortingly homely with a hint of bitterness – unemployed life embodied in a condiment.