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Growing pains

Good Books which deal with growing pains are actually quite rare, I think. But here are a few which have had an impact on me:

Leslie Tate – Heaven’s Rage
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women

There are a few more lighter reads such as:
And I would even go so far as to add Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven to this list.
Beatrice Holloway‘s tales about Rhys and life on a canal boat would also fit this bill.

Both Percy’s Quest by Barbara Follows
and the George and Flora series by Rachel Haywood deal with growing up issues through the lives of animals.

Growing up of a different kind is tackled in Illumination by Mavis Patcher. This is a story of two androids learning how to be human.
Gideon Master’s characters in his Lucifer’s Child trilogy (not recommended for anyone under 18 years old) have to learn to deal with new worlds and states of being.

first published 8 May 2017, updated 2024

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Horses and donkeys

In days gone by, horses and donkeys were important for transport. Today in many rural settings, they can still be found performing similar functions whilst in more affluent areas, horses are a hobby and income earner through racing. They feature in fiction and non-fiction books alike. Here’s a sample of what horses featuring on covers by TSL authors:

Three books concern the Anglo-Boer or South African war on 1899-1902, two of which are non-fiction: British Military Chaplaincy and Religion in South Africa 1899-1902 and Practically Over. The third is a novel by Robberta Eaton Cheadle, A Ghost and His Gold.

Two others are children’s books – a working horse features in Towing Path Tales while The Amorous Adventures of Big Ben, a Shire horse, tells of a horse all alone in a field, his work done, finding love.

Family are the Friends you Choose is an autobiography by Marthe Kiley-Worthington who forms relationships with animals, and horses in particular, that are close to human. Ever heard of a horse in a kitchen and watching television?
Another autobiography is that by Ray Wooster, My 30’s and 40’s Childhood featuring his toy horse. Ray goes on to write about horses in his A Boy’s War Journal, a novel set in and post-World War 2 London.

Finally, John Samson’s A Donkey called Oddsock, a novel, set somewhere in Africa, tells of a donkey’s journey as he and his young master try to avoid being recruited as child soldiers.

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Breaking the Mould

Why follow the crowd? I don’t understand authors who insist on writing to formulae. Yes, there is a place for formulaic writing – for those who don’t want to concentrate. I remember as a teenager spending many a Saturday morning in the bath with a Barbara Cartland or Mills and Boon. I knew within an 90mins I’d be finished the book and would have some peace and quiet before the onslaught of family life again. As a younger adult, television programmes such as Poirot and Murder She Wrote, allowed me to get on with other things whilst keeping an eye on what was happening – I knew I was not going to miss a vital clue. But when it comes to reading, I want to break from the mould. I want each page to be a discovery and to challenge my thinking. I like writers who break the mould.

Authors break the mould in different ways. I never know what Doris Lessing’s next book is going to be about and in what style, although it does appear that aspects of feminism are a common theme (no guarantee though). (I don’t read the blurb before buying or starting a book – which makes opening a book to read even more adventurous). Similarly, John Samson has not (yet) written two books in the same genre or style. And then there is Sue Hampton‘s collections of short stories. Robbie Cheadle (and here) is another author who experiments with different styles and genres.

Others break the mould through their experiences or have a message to pass on:
Problems faced by African writers – Binyavanga Wainaina
Heaven’s Rage – Leslie Tate

More recently I heard about John Boyne who has written diverse works such as The History of Loneliness and The house of special purpose as well as children’s books. He’s now on my list (thank goodness he was highly recommended to me – I don’t think the covers would have convinced me).

first published 10 August 2017, updated 2024

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Challenging assumptions

Reimagining Christmas in modern Australia

What an incredible interpretation of the seasonal nativity scene.
I was intrigued to discover it’s set in Australia – my natural assumption was that it was somewhere in Africa. It just goes to show, don’t assume!
What attracts me to the image is how it turns so many stereotypes upside down, inside out and back to front. Another interesting point is the clearly recognisable shell logo without the company name mentioned. I turned to thoughts of oysters giving rise to beautiful creations from a horrid niggle/poke in the flesh or the South African perlemoen or mother of pearl shell. There are so many stories to tell from this reinterpretation of the nativity scene.

But that’s not all. In searching for the image online – I had only seen a photocopied version of it – I discovered this one:

Click on image for source location

Having conjured up a story or more around the first image, the second forces a rethink – perhaps a radical one, again challenging assumptions.

And I couldn’t help but think of The Shack by William P Young which has now been made into a film. I read this book ages ago and am thankful I did. I’m not sure I would read it now based on the blurb and the trailer which clearly places the focus on what the director or marketeers think will get people in to watch the film and make money. For those interested, the book is now classified as a crime novel whereas it was previously religious/Christian fiction. Today, looking at the blurb on my 2007 copy of The Shack, I can’t say I would have read the book based on this – I very definitely read fiction based on word of mouth, which places me in an interesting position as a publisher… (and it’s word of mouth which has brought this book to the ‘big’ stage ten years down the line). I’m not even going to attempt to tell you more about The Shack as I think it’s best read with no or few preconceived ideas, and definitely before you see the film.

Another self-confronting novel challenging assumptions of a religious nature is RJ Whitfield’s The Good Vicar. As I’ve said before, touching on themes I wouldn’t generally read but definitely worth a read or three for the depth of writing and thought-provoking content.

An author has the power to reveal or conceal creating a written image of the message they want to convey. Fiction writers have more freedom in this regard whilst non-fiction writers by limiting their descriptions and being selective open themselves up to accusations of bias. It’s your choice how much you let your reader assume, but it’s also worth being reminded that it’s not always good to judge a book by its cover or by its publishing platform.

First published 14 April 2017, updated 2024

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Bee Books

Bee Books

Bees are incredible little creatures and as diverse as mankind if you ask me. The African bee has a reputation of being more dangerous that the British one and the humble bumble bee does seem to bumble along. I’ve come across a number of books dealing with bees and so was surprised I hadn’t started a collection of ‘Bee books’ when I came across the Colour of Bee Larkam’s Murder by Sarah J Harris.

I was really taken with Go Set a Watchman which I reviewed as part of a collection on

Black and white: crossing the colour line

Colour can be eye-catching and nothing more so than black and white next to each other. It reminds me of a South African DJ commenting that Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder was a song about piano-keys -if he hadn’t, perhaps the song would have been banned by the Apartheid government as black and white were not allowed to mix. Others who managed to avoid the radio ban to some extent were South Africa’s white Zulu, Johnny Clegg and Mango Groove.

tslbooks.uk

And of course, at TSL we have:

Sir Chocolate and the Sugar Dough Bees story and cookbook (square)

A greedy snail damages the flower fields and the fondant bees are in danger of starving. Join Sir Chocolate on an adventure to find the fruit drop fairies who have magic healing powers and discover how to make some of his favourite foods on the way. (Square book)

tslbooks.uk

Where the Bee sucks, a short story by Jane Lockyer Willis in

Tea at the Opalaco and other stories – Jane Lockyer Willis

A collection of twenty short stories. The Visit was commended for the 2011 John Walter Salver competition and Jane was also awarded second prize in 2015 for her story Undelivered. Several of her pieces have been adapted for radio. “An eclectic collection of stories exploring human relations” “Tearooms, picnics, weddings and romantic encounters abound”.

tslbooks.uk

And there’s  Curse of Magira: A novel of East Africa by David Bee, which looks at the First World War in the south of East Africa, whilst Maya Alexandri’s The Celebration Husband covers the north (with one mention of bees). Other single mentions of bees can be found in Ezra Williams’ Selected Pieces and Guthrie McGruer’s The Cardigan Cuckoos.

first published 8 June 2018, updated 2024

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Book settings: London

One of TSL’s straplines is #SupportingLocal. For TSL, local is wherever we want it to be as we have links in Africa as well as the UK and the US and into Europe and Australia…

However, many of our authors are local to our registered address in Hertfordshire, UK. Our physical location means we cross into at least three boroughs or counties as well as being part of Greater London. This is a blessing and a challenge as one tries to convince local bookshops and libraries that authors in the neighbouring town or county are actually local as they are closer to the shop/library than others in the named locality. Keeping track of which book would appeal to which area becomes quite a challenge as so many local locations may be mentioned in one book. What this has done, however, is made me realise how many authors use their localities for placing their novels (obviously autobiographical accounts are different).

A recent study on which parts of London featured in literature was quite revealing. TSL novels widen this map to West London, Hertfordshire and Berkshire.

Questions this raises are,
– Does a book with a specific location determine the wider success of a novel or not?
– How does a local-oriented book break through territorial boundaries?

London is clearly a well-known and loved city by many, so setting a book in the capital tends to make sense if a city backdrop is needed. A number of children’s classics use London for a setting or part thereof. Was this a way of preparing young people in the UK and wider empire for the day they would potentially visit? Was it a way of extending the capital to the outlying areas thereby giving citizens and others a feeling of being connected? Many visitors to London have said they feel they ‘know’ it (navigating the tube is a different story) – because of the books they’ve read?

The following TSL books are either set in London or feature the city significantly.

first published 12 August 2017, updated 2024

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Waves

The sea is powerful. For some it’s a source of inspiration and relaxation. For others, it’s dark and threatening. Thus it provides a wonderful backdrop for many stories.

Those which spring to mind include:
Albatross by David Stroud
The Goddess in Ravelled by Sue Hampton
Fancy That by Josie Arden in This and That vol 1
Stephen Baker makes waves in his monologue collection Against the Tide
And don’t miss John Samson‘s novel A Donkey Called Oddsock where a young boy goes in search of the sea.
Philip Philmar has a beautiful mermaid surrounded by waves on the cover of Warm and Wet, one of the stories in his short story collection of the same title.
The sea features too in Leslie Tate’s Love’s Register and in Margaret Moore’s holiday reminiscences From Sri-Lanka with Love.

Finally, Dave Robson shares how to be a popular crew member when sailing on the waves.

First published 12 April 2017, updated 2024

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Feminisms

Feminism is a word that gets me cringing – it’s a label and one I don’t want to be boxed into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful for what the Suffragettes did – one of the reasons I believe all people should vote even if you don’t think putting a cross in a box will make a difference (my other ‘must vote’ reason is seeing what being able to vote meant to so many in South Africa in 1994. People died to have a say, I can’t ignore that.) Over my short life, I’ve come to realise there are many feminisms and the one I most closely associate with is what I equate to Female Consciousness (taking Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness as a starting point). I don’t have to change my behaviour to be valued or to have my femininity recognised. I am valued because I am true to myself and my beliefs.

An author I value for a seemingly similar view is Doris Lessing. But it is Margaret Atwood who inspired this post. Well, not Margaret herself but rather an article on women becoming feminists because of her. A Handmaid’s tale is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen to the extent that I’m too afraid to read the book. It resonates today, not because of the position of women, but rather because the human race doesn’t seem to learn from the past. We glibly accept what is fed to us through the media, accepting policies in the work place because we’re too scared not to (what happened to common sense?) and giving in to the general hysteria around us.

I know many powerful and strong women who just get on with the job, confident in their belief of what they’re doing: Ruth First and a young Winnie Mandela who fought against colour discrimination; Olive Schreiner, Gertrude Page, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and other writers who use(d) the pen to comment on social inequalities and unjust actions irrespective of gender; Emily Hobhouse campaigning against the Boer War concentration camps, Florence Nightingale nursing in the Crimea, business women who have broken the perceived glass ceiling because of being good at their job – taxation, economics, education. And crossing into a new culture, watching the documentary of Hooligan Sparrow at The Rights Practice. Ye Haiyan (aka Hooligan Sparrow) is a remarkable person protesting against the inequalities in Chinese society – in this case the use of school girls who are sexually exploited. Although the focus was on Ye Haiyan as the driving force, she could not have achieved what she did (and continues to do) without the support of others.

I can’t help but think that if we stop getting side-tracked by the label of feminism, and just get on and do, society as a whole will be in a much better place. And, I’m reminded of two books different in style and detail but similar in setting and having strong women as the main characters; one written by a woman (Maya Alexandri), the other by a male (Wilbur Smith); the latter makes no mention in the blurb of the women involved – I assume because of the readership Wilbur is appealing to(!).

first published 31 May 2017, updated 2024

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Ducks

Recently I was reminded of that wonderful Duck Song my husband found when our nieces were visiting quite some time back now. It made me think of other duck mentions…

Naughty little ducklings help count in On the Farm.

The Baby Cookie Monster reminds me of a duck, don’t you think?

In his war diary of 1942-1943, young Billy Palmer talks of catching duck and pheasant for food when the latter was scarce.

A slight variation on the term duck features in Tea at the Opalaco and other stories.

And of course, we have to include The Moon is Toast for all those players who went ‘out for duck’.

The image is from Twitter, 30 Dec 2016 (@leslietate) and in case you missed what it said: Anatidaephobia is the fear that somewhere in the world, there is a duck watching you.

First published 9 April 2017, updated 2024