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My travels with Jeremy Northam

Jeremy Northam is proving to be an interesting travelling companion. In 2008, after first splitting our time between languidly idling among the dreamy spires of Oxford and staying at an imposing stately home in the English countryside, we flitted off together for a brief sojourn on the Venetian lagoon, before later wandering the souks of Morocco.

Fairytale of New York by Miranda Dickinson

I was fortunate enough to win a signed copy of Miranda Dickinson’s wonderful debut novel Fairytale of New York. The author herself ran a competition on Twitter – I’ve alluded to the wonders of social networking in an earlier post – and, just before Christmas, it arrived, together with a lovely card and some yummy chocolate, which I think ought to accompany any book sent to me in future!

It was the first book I read this year and, as it turns out, it was pretty much the perfect book to read during that miserable snowed-in time we had of it in January. It is a wonderfully uplifting read, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make you feel all warm and fuzzy. In fact, it makes you want to tilt back your head, put out your arms and swing round and round like small children sometimes do, so whoever designed the cover exactly hit on the effect it had on this reader. I have to admit that it’s not how I felt before I started reading. I generally don’t pick up a book that has pink on the cover but I’m so glad that I made an exception in this case and yes, I will venture past the odd pink cover again, given that this book has proved to be such a fantastic read and one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on.

Fairytale of New York tells the story of eternal optimist Rosie Duncan, an English woman living in New York, where she runs her own floristry business with the help of serial dater Ed and commitment-phobe Marnie. She’s been running the store for six years, having taken it over from the previous owner, Mr Kowlaski. In a nice touch that adds greatly to the book, the spirit of Mr Kowalski lives on and you feel his presence throughout the book, not least in Rosie herself and her attitude towards running the store and the way in which she looks after the loyal customers she inherited. However, Rosie is hiding a secret that until now only Celia, her super-efficient and slightly scary powerhouse businesswoman friend, knows. It’s the reason behind her sudden flight from Boston and arrival in New York. A chance meeting sets events in motion which force her to revisit her past and come to terms with it, providing her with an opportunity to move on with her life and finally find the happiness she’s been keeping at bay for six long years.

The central character of Rosie is a star, sunny, breezy optimist that she is, and I’m sure other readers will warm to her and cheer her on as she works towards finding her happiness. She’s not the only character with appeal though. The majority of Miranda’s characters are full of life and leap off the page, fully-formed individuals that they are. Throughout the course of the book, they will invoke a range of feelings in you: at times you’ll cheer them on, at others they’ll frustrate you; and they’ll make you laugh, grimace, groan, and smile, just as your friends do in real life. Miranda truly peoples her version of New York and she does it extremely well. Although I’ve never been to New York, she also conjures up a convincing feel and vibe for the city, which is more than simply the backdrop for her novel here. It is a character in its own right. I love when a book caters to all my senses and this one certainly did that with its descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Rosie’s part of New York. The book is well-paced and moves along at a great speed, maybe hurtling a little too fast at the end but that’s a minor quibble, as is the fact that Rosie’s big secret, when it’s revealed, shouldn’t come as a major surprise or be too shocking. This is a great debut that fully deserves to be as successful as it’s proven to be since its publication in November 2009. And while I may have won my copy of the book, I have since bought copies for friends and recommended it to others and I’m doing that again now. Buy it, read it, tell people about it. Because that’s the best way to find the good books and this is a great book. You’ll love it.

Fairytale of New York is published by Avon, a division of HarperCollins, and is available from all good bookstores and online retailers such as LoveReading or Amazon. It has recently been shortlisted  for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2010. Read more about that here. To find out more about Miranda, Fairytale of New York and her next book, Welcome to my World, which is out later this year, check out her website or her Coffee & Roses blog. Miranda is also an award-winning songwriter and you can listen to her music at her MySpace page.

A new Chapter

After being thwarted by the freakishly heavy snowfalls and equally freakish (for I am never sick) illness of January, I decided that, with the advent of February, the time had come to get out there and try another literary event and network some more. My first attempt in December had gone reasonably well and I’d come home buzzing with ideas and freshly invigorated and inspired and having not only met up with some familiar faces but also made the acquaintance of some new ones. This, I had decided back in the tail-end of 2009, was a good thing that ought to be repeated.

So I set off out to the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and drove down almost every street in Canton apart from the right one before having to worry people in the car park and encourage them to leave, thus freeing up a space for me. Eventually, half an hour late, I made it to the Seren/Poetry Wales event. And there followed another evening of very different voices and poems, some of which were incredibly powerful and raw and hit a nerve and resonated and others which washed over me. It was a treat to hear more of Ivy Alvarez’s wonderful dictionary poems, which she reads so well. It was also good to finally get a chance to hear Peter Finch perform a couple of his poems and, despite years of hearing about how wonderful he was ‘live’, he certainly didn’t disappoint. I also loved the poems performed by Susie Wild and Thommie Gillow (who held the post of Bard of Bath in 2007-2008).

I can’t sleep and don’t think I’ll be able to for some time, so I’m writing, mostly fragments, phrases and ideas, that tomorrow or some other writing day may take shape and form. What this proves is that going out to events is definitely a good thing. I knew that really. It’s always good to make sure though, isn’t it?

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