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Flying high with Paper Aeroplanes

Paper Aeroplanes play 10Feet Tall, Cardiff on March 6, 2010
Paper Aeroplanes play 10Feet Tall, Cardiff on March 6, 2010

Every so often I stumble upon a book or a film or new music through what is often a throwaway remark by a friend or an acquaintance. Either their comment or the premise or name of whatever it is simply piques my interest and I make a note of it or, and this is far more likely, I stop what I’m doing right there and then to look it up. So it was that a chance remark by someone I follow on Twitter led me to check out the music of Paper Aeroplanes on their MySpace page. He’d come back from one of their gigs in Islington, was raving about it and had had the CD on constant play ever since getting back home. An hour later and I was still on MySpace, having played through all the tracks a number of times and I, too, had ordered the CD. That was Friday (February 26th) and it arrived the following Tuesday (March 2nd).

This Friday just gone (March 6th), I’d booked to go out to an informal meet-up for CardiffGirlGeek at 10Feet Tall in Cardiff and, in one of those happy cosmic alignments that make me feel all warm and fuzzy and generally content with my lot in life, who should be playing that night but Paper Aeroplanes? I know this isn’t the case at all but it’s at times like this that I could almost believe that there are certain people you’re supposed (destined) to meet at certain times in your life, or certain events that you are fated to attend.

The Paper Aeroplanes I saw at 10Feet Tall were a two-piece: Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn, both from Pembrokeshire. There are other band members, they just weren’t at the gig I went to. I’m guessing because it was a small venue. Their sound is alternative acoustic pop music and it is beautiful, uplifting and anything but throwaway pop. The lyrics are wonderful, poetic at times, and the sound is distinctive. If your spirits aren’t lifted by Sarah’s beautifully pure vocals and you don’t feel the urge to bop just a little, then you have no soul and there is little hope for you. Give them a listen, or several. They are well worth checking out and even better, if you get the chance, go see them live. They are as good live as they are on their CD and there aren’t so many bands you can honestly say that about.

Take off with Paper Aeroplanes on Myspace and Facebook or you can Follow Sarah on Twitter.

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?

Snow day

The undisturbed back garden under snow
The undisturbed back garden under snow

I have discovered a downside to working from home. When it snows, you can’t really justify not working because – well, you’re already at the office. It’s not as if you can’t make it down the hall or stairs to wherever your office happens to be. (I’m assuming that roof leakage is not an issue here and you don’t have indoor snow drifts.)

So, it was with a heavy heart that I looked out of the window this morning and saw this beautiful sight in my back garden. Needless to say, and I blame it on the shrieks of the neighbourhood kiddies disturbing my concentration, I didn’t even work through until lunchtime before caving in to the cries of my inner child and going outside to build a snow squirrel with Squizzey. The finished work of snow art lasted all of 15 minutes before the real children of our corner of the world ploughed through it with their sleds. Not sure whether they meant to do that or they just can’t drive (they are valleys kids after all so the latter is likely) but the snow squirrel is now a deceased squirrel and all I can show you for proof of my snow day – besides a crime scene which is starting to melt – is the shed and the back garden lying under the lovely crunchy white stuff.

Poetry and Mince Pies

I am buzzing from having been among such talented and varied voices for the evening and don’t think that I’ll be able to sleep for quite some time to come. Maybe I should seize the moment, pour myself a glass of amaretto and put pen to paper?

To launch the Women’s edition of Roundyhouse poetry magazine, there was an evening of poetry and mince pies at the Oriel Canfas Gallery in Cardiff. I met some people I knew and hadn’t seen for a long time, like Phil Carradice and his wife, Trudy, and Emily Hinshelwood, but also met some new faces, which is always fun. I particularly enjoyed poems by Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews, Ivy Alvarez, Nick Fisk and Simone Mansell Broome.

A Novel in a Month?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sorry, NaNoWhat? Oh, that. Curses, you remember. Yes,okay, confession time. I did mention that I was considering signing up for NaNoWriMo – that stands for saying goodbye to your life for a month in order to write a novel, or, at least, 50,000 words of one. When I said that I was thinking about it, we were still on the 4th or 5th of November, so not too much of the month had passed and I felt that it was do-able. You’ll be pleased to know that I successfully managed to procrastinate well into the next week and, by that time, it no longer resembled an achievable goal.

Would I like to achieve 50,000 words in a month? Yes, which writer wouldn’t? But I would need to have mapped out enough of the story and characters in order to make that feasible. You might work differently but I need time to mull and ponder before committing anything to the computer or notepad. It’s important for me to have that space and let things ferment. I run ideas around and herd up the possibles before heading for the pen. It’s just how I work. When I started writing classes in 2003, it was something that drove my other half mad. Each week I would have “homework” for class and, each week without fail, I would be up into the small hours of Friday morning (the day of the class) writing whatever it was, be it short story, poem, article or report. I tried to get it done earlier so that I wouldn’t have to go to class the following day on minimal sleep but it rarely worked, or I seldom wrote anything that I was happy with. If my ‘thinking time’ was curtailed in any way, my writing was the poorer for it. I believe that’s still the case and make sure that I make full use of whatever time I have in order to get a piece of writing done. Writing against the clock, down to the wire, whatever you want to call it, works for me.

NaNoWriMo sounds like it should be tailor-made for someone like me. Maybe it is, but I’m not so convinced. I have a picture of a month of fairly intense and constant writing. Where, then, is the thinking time and how the heck would I manage without it?

The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers

This is a beautifully written book that vividly imagines the extraordinary life of a remarkable man.

Owen Sheers finds a book in his father’s study which puts him on the trail of one of his distant relations, Arthur Shearly Cripps, also a poet. The journey takes him from the Rhodes Library in Oxford to modern-day Zimbabwe to London as he traces the life of his missionary ancestor, who left England at the turn of the twentieth century for what was then Southern Rhodesia.

Armistice Day

In July 2008, on the way back from Italy, I visited the Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, near Albert in northern France. Years earlier, my mother had made a promise to her own mother that she would make the trip and find the grave of one of my cousins, Private W S MacKay of the Seaforth Highlanders, who died there on 14th September 1915 aged 19.

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