Back at my desk

I’ve had a two month hiatus in working on my WIP, and so my documents, notes and ideas have lain dormant.  Not really ever forgotten, but just parked in long-term parking.  I shall be getting out the papers in the next couple of days, and hoping that I can slip back into Lanzarote of the 1730s.  I haven’t had a two month hiatus of writing, in fact, it’s been pretty prolific, with an estimated 66,000 words over almost two months of daily blogging about ‘life on the water with Whinchat‘, and I’ve enjoyed it so much.  If only I could apply the same rigour to my more creative work, I’d have knocked out a decent half a novel in that time, but then, blogging, in that unstructured, unrefined way, isn’t the same as crafting a novel.  There’s not much about plot, conflict, structure, and the mechanisms underneath that make a novel readable.

It’s made me think about picking up another idea for a book, one that I’ve mooted before, and I’m wondering if I have the ability (and discipline) to work the two alongside each other.  I’m not sure what the proffered wisdom might be, but when I was in full-time employment, I used to do this as a matter of course – work on multiple projects, clients – and my work didn’t suffer.  This other one is not fictional, but more life writing, and therefore it’s not as if I shall get muddled with characters or plot.  I think I might give it a go.  I might find that the differences in styles mean that it suits changes in mood and inspiration.  I’m not a very linear person either, so what have I got to lose?  Really?  Not much.  It’s more art than science, or at least, I hope it will be.

The other great joy in my sailing trip has been the ability to devour books.  I’ve been a pretty voracious reader, with a couple of reviews still sitting in draft to be published.  That has felt like a real indulgence at one level, but I do think it sharpens my critical mind, and therefore my writing mind.   I’ve been out of the loop on news, and so I shall have to see what I’ve missed in terms of matters YewTree/Savile-related.

Anyway, it’s lovely to be back, and here’s to a productive couple of months after a lovely long siesta!

Book review: People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book is a work of fiction inspired by the true story of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. The story begins in 1996 with Hanna Heath, a book restorer, who is under UN guard as she restores this remarkable book, the Haggadah, which has escaped burning and discovery throughout its existence. As Hanna uncovers clues to its past, Brooks takes us back through time and imagines what might have happened, through the forensic clues that Hanna finds. People of the Book spans centuries – Seville 1480, Tarragona 1492, Venice 1609, Vienna 1894, and ultimately back with Hanna in 2002.

It is a kind of literary mystery, told in the first person narrative. This gives fascinating insights into what life might have been like. Brooks gives a portrayal of some harrowing lives, and times, in history. Brooks’ writing is pure joy – descriptions are rich and conjure up places, people, feelings. The chapters on the ‘people of the book’ are like short stories within the book, layering to give a picture of the history of the book, but with wonderful character portrayals and insights. The alcoholic priest and the book’s illustrator are both so vivid, they will remain with me.

Hanna is the protagonist, and Brooks puts her through her paces. Hanna is at one level a brash, straight talking Aussie, but she has a vulnerability that is very touching. The first person narrative allows us to observe the world as she sees it, but Hanna is a good observer of people (as well as in her career as a book restorer), and this thoughtfulness I enjoyed very much. There is tension between Hanna and her mother, a successful career-driven, feminist, neurosurgeon, and this plays out during the book.

Brooks gives us major themes to think about as a reader. All the chapters concerning the people of the book are in places of conflict, and the persecution of the Jews runs through the book. Also are love, loss, friendships, and of course parent-child relationships.

The underlying story, Hanna’s story, and that of the Haggadah runs around these chapters on the people, and ultimately comes together in 2002, with an unexpected twist, which gives a resolution to the People of the Book that I was not expecting.

People of the Book is an absorbing, delightful read.