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Unter deinem Stern (Flights of Angels) by Victoria Connelly

I always thought one of the benefits of becoming proficient in a foreign language would be that I’d be able to read another country’s literature in the original language, rather than in translation. (In fact, if I chose the language wisely, I’d be able to read that of more than one country.) I never thought for a moment that it would enable me to read a novel set in England, originally written in English by an English author but which has, so far, only been published in translation.

OMG! I’m a teenager again!

Please see pic for Exhibit ‘A’ – Della Says: OMG! – a book that I would not normally pick up to read the blurb on the back cover, let alone buy and read cover-to-cover in one sitting. Why? We-ell, there’s shocking pink and fluorescent green on the front cover, for starters, the book title contains text speak (even though, yes, I use it myself. Guilty as charged) and it’s a book aimed at the teen market.

A bout of early Hay Festival Fever

When the brochure for this year’s Hay Festival plopped onto the doormat, I immediately settled down to spend some time going through it. Living as I do within an hour’s drive of Hay-on-Wye, the book town has a special place in this book squirrel’s heart already. But, for one magical week of the year, it becomes everything that I enjoy in one convivial and joyous event: interesting and stimulating speakers and sessions; books; variety; books; mountains of strawberries, cherries and ice cream; more than ample people-watching opportunities; books; a buzzing atmosphere come rain or shine; and simply having the opportunity of being in the company of people who are neither ashamed of reading, nor find it remotely geeky and, above all, who are not afraid of DOING IT IN PUBLIC.

This year I’m even more excited than usual about the prospect of going to The Guardian Hay Festival at the end of the month because I’ve had more opportunity to plan for it. This year for the first time I’ll be camping (in a yurt, no less!) close to the Festival site for a few days. After years of driving there and back for the day, I finally feel as if I’m going to “do” Hay properly. Those past day trips haven’t been in vain though. Oh no! and I’m putting what I’ve learned into practice, as follows:

1. I signed up to be a Friend of Hay. This only costs £20 (£34 for double membership and, importantly, this is not limited to couples, so you can sign up with a friend and save money) for 12 months. For this, you not only get to see the finalised programme first but you can also book events before tickets go on general sale. Once at the Festival, you don’t have to queue for ages because there is a special Friends’ entrance to each event and you effectively get an all-access pass to the refreshment areas (some being reserved for Friends Only).

2. I’m going out of my comfort zone and have chosen a range of events. Even if you’re clear about the type of events you would like to go to, there is a lot of variety in the programme. The advantage of going with a friend with slightly different interests from me this year is that I’ve booked some events that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with. Past experience of going with other people has shown me that sometimes these turn out to be the best, most enjoyable and/or most memorable ones. So, mix it up a bit and get out of your comfort zone!

3. Stay on or near the site so that you can get to a spread of events throughout the day and you don’t have to miss the evening comedy or music acts. Hay events start early in the morning and go on until late at night so if you only go there for the day you can be thoroughly exhausted by the end if you try and do too much or a full day. Hay days are packed full of goodies. Trust me, I know! If you can afford it and you’ve booked somewhere in good time, it books up fast and some accommodation can be booked a year in advance by Festival regulars, staying nearby is the ideal solution to this. (Accommodation books up fast and some is booked up to a year in advance by Festival regulars.)

4. Allow time between events. It is very easy to try and cram too much into the day so you frantically book up loads within a short space of time when you first go to Hay and then you spend your time running across the site from one thing to the next with no time to stop and savour the atmosphere (and this varies between Dunkirk spirit if it’s wet and muddy or the Great British Summer fete if it’s warm and sunny like last year); chat to the fascinating, and yes, sometimes downright eccentric people you meet; go to book signings of the authors whose events you’ve just been to; and get a drink, ice cream or a meal. All of these are essential elements of the Hay experience and you really should make time for them. (You should also factor in some time for comfort breaks, as well. Even if you think you have a superhuman bladder, you probably don’t.)

So there are my thoughts on how to improve your Hay experience. If you’re there this year, tweet me and say Hi!

For more information on this year’s Guardian Hay Festival, check out the main Festival website which has booking information and the full programme, together with details of the Friends’ membership scheme.

The Dating Detox by Gemma Burgess

I am fast coming around to the idea that I should either get my book recommendations from Twitter or work my way through the Avon Imprint titles for the foreseeable future. So far this year, I’ve read two of their books found through the social networking site (the first of which was Miranda Dickinson’s Fairytale of New York, reviewed here) and both have been great reads. Have I mentioned before how much I love Twitter? I have? Want me to stop raving about it? Not likely to happen anytime soon. Sorry.

So this is my second Twitter Treasure: The Dating Detox is Gemma Burgess’ debut novel and a very fine one it is too. I did wonder when I read the book cover if it was for me or not: I’m no longer in my twenties (except in my head); I’ve only ever watched one episode of Sex and the City, although I have, in my defence, seen the film; I loathed the Bridget Jones’ books with a passion; I was never that bothered if I was dating or not in my twenties as long as I was having fun; and I am, and no doubt always will be, sartorially challenged at the best of times. I’m going to keep the fact that I own more trainers than shoes to myself. Probably best for now.

Anyway, The Dating Detox is the story of Sass, a twenty-something copywriter working for a London agency, who is about to be unceremoniously dumped for the sixth time in a row when the book opens. This sparks a crisis in Sass’ life and, although she deals with it by an initial and understandable period of wallowing, she then comes up with a great alternative remedy called The Dating Detox, a 10-point checklist designed to keep her from falling into the clutches of another man only to have him break her heart somewhere down the line. It’s a great concept and keeping up with Sass’ attempts at sticking to her non-dating mantra is, in turns, immensely enjoyable, frustrating when she looks as if she’s missing out on future happiness, and a real ride. Hold on tight to the covers as it’s a bit of a bumpy one and don’t let go until you’ve seen Sass safely through to the end.

Any initial doubts I had about the book vanished in the space of a very few pages. Sass saw to that. She is an exceptionally likeable, real and endearing character, the kind of woman you’d like to have as a friend. I loved her voice throughout the book, as well as her attitude and sheer Sass-iness. She’s also made me look at clothes in a whole new light and I will certainly consider my choice of outfit more carefully after having read this book. I found myself looking forward to Sass and her (sometimes twice-daily) creating and naming of the outfit routine. Way to make the ordeal of what to wear fun!

While Sass is the main character, and a very dominant one at that – well, it is her story, after all – there is a fabulous supporting cast of friends and co-workers and Gemma brings these to life with equal flair. The friendships and relationships in the book feel real and genuine, as do the characters. I also love that Sass gives her ex-boyfriends great nicknames, which help us build up a picture of the men she’s dated and why she might not have had the long-term relationship she was perhaps hoping for.

The Dating Detox is a fantastic read and I wholeheartedly recommend it. If, as the blurb says, life is a party, then this book is not only full of life but its very own paperback party. Get the drinks in, put on your best party outfit, kick off your dancing shoes and curl up and enjoy. You’ll be reading it into the wee small hours, I guarantee it.

The Dating Detox by Gemma Burgess is published by Avon, an Imprint of HarperCollins. You can buy it through this site by clicking on the above image. To find out more about Gemma, The Dating Detox and her next book, visit GemmaBurgess.com.

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.

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