Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Monday, 21 February 2011

Poetry news

I don't often write about poetry but then I don't write poetry either. I like the war poems of Sassoon and Owen, I enjoy Eliot, Stevie Smith and Robert Frost but I'm not a connoisseur of the great and the good. I spent a few of my teenage years writing suicide poetry in the bedroom but then didn't we all? 'The tumbrils of my mind roll on...' and all that! I soon grew out of it when the Beatles kicked in. But kind people have passed on these snippets of poetic news, so I'm including them.

National Poetry Competition 2011

The winner of the 2010 National Poetry Competition will be made public in March and after that, the 2011 competition will be launched. The competition for the best single poem submitted was set up in 1978 and since then has given career boosts to such poets as the current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and T S Eliot prizewinner, Philip Gross. Helen Dunmore won with her poem, The Malarky in 2009. http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/ will give you more details and the prize is big.

National Poetry Day 2011

This year's theme for National Poetry Day 2011 is 'Games'. It will be held on Thursday 6 October. Live events and web-based activities have been a feature since 1994 and this year promises to be no exception. You can find out more about it from http://www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk/

Book A Poet

This brings me to an exciting venture recently launched by a team of writers and editors with a passion for poetry. www.bookapoet.co.uk/ They've opened an agency to take bookings for poetry readings and these range from festivals to workshops and residencies to readings. In fact, anyone who wishes to book a poet can find one here. Examples of poets' work are featured on the site together with a gallery, so you can see who they are.

And if you send me your poetry news, I might do a regular poetry blog.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Is Amy Chua, Tiger Mother perfectly right or horribly wrong?

Yale Law School's John M Duff Professor of Law, Amy Chua has caused quite a stir on the parenting front with her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin) and whatever else it achieves, it's destined to sell books, so her parents will be delighted she's succeeded at that.

Not read the book but...

I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to unless sent a review copy (large hint) but I've read the articles and seen the interviews, particularly this morning's with Vanessa on Channel 5 (whatever is that chap doing there?). I get the gist of it though and decided to throw in my two penn'orth because a third of my piano students are Chinese and boy have I noticed the difference in cultures between east and west? And that's just it. Why should we be so outraged by attitudes of other cultures because they aren't like ours? How arrogant are we to say another approach is 'wrong' and ours is 'right'? There is no right or wrong, just differences and some may work and some may not in both cultures.

UK piano students

Now for the empirical take. To generalise (which I know I shouldn't) some of my British parents are great lead swingers; they cancel lessons at the drop of a hat - amazing how many cars break down so often and how grandpas have a habit of re-dying (Tip 1: if you're going to tell a little white one, make sure you remember what it was.) Kids tend to be hawked round from football to dancing, from Brownies to swimming and on to guitar and/or piano lessons, not to ensure they excel at all these activities, because they don't, but (just my opinion this) it enables the parent(s) to drop into Tescos and leave them with the musical childminder for half an hour while they do the shopping. This seems to have come to an abrupt halt since I made it clear they were to be picked up at the end of the lesson and not 15 minutes later while I'm teaching someone else. 'She'll be here soon, she's just gone shopping', has lain dormant for a while.

What happens with these kids is that they are doing so much stuff that they have no time to practise any of it, so they are mediocre at all of them. I could weep over those who begin with a genuine talent, only to fade into oblivion on the keys as they spread their time between multifarious activities. Then there's the X boxes and social networking which ensure they don't go to bed (or to sleep) until the small hours and take up far too much of their childhood. And nobody seems to care; except me perhaps. I sit by them as they yawn and stretch, sneeze and cough ('oh, has he got a cold?'-surprised parent) after a late night sleepover and a heavy day at school. What chance does a struggling piano teacher have trying to motivate them? How can that be 'right' eh?

Chinese piano students

The Chinese parents, on the other hand, have strict ideas about what they expect from their children, discipline for a start (remember that if you were born before 1960?). 'How is that 'wrong'? In the last lot of exams, the two distinctions went to two Chinese girls and the rest got high merits (including a Chinese boy whose standard slipped because his parents were being too Western to notice).

I once had a pupil whose Chinese mother berated her at every slip of a key leaving the child a quivering wreck in floods of tears. Once I'd convinced the child that it was OK to make mistakes and told the mother that she was the cause of the child's problems and it couldn't continue, it stopped, we became great friends and the pupil achieved what her mother had wanted in the first place. I think it's about compromise. Practising is a problem for all children and most of my Chinese parents are willing to compromise, especially those born here or who are in mixed marriages, which provides a better balance. And they do seem to have an innate talent for playing the piano. I have an adult Chinese student who applies herself to practising diligently and is happily playing Clementi and Beethoven after only 12 months.

What now?

Amy Chua
My greatest test is about to come. During a recent trial lesson, I asked a young Chinese boy why he wanted to learn the piano? 'I don't,' he said. 'My father wants me to.' Pretty honest considering dad was sitting by his side at the time, looking thunderous. It isn't unknown for them to have had three or four piano tutors before they get here, probably nothing much wrong with any of them, but if a pupil doesn't want to learn, they're unlikely to pull it off with any of us. Maybe I'll turn out to be Little Miss Perfect.

PS: Harry the Cat

And now, I must go and kill that cat for he's been whining all day, despite four different bowls of food, none of which meet his expectations and he's standing on the stairs above my office, deaf as a post and shouting his head off.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Read Benioff's City of Thieves - great book!

David Benioff's City of Thieves (Sceptre) gives a fascinating insight into the deprivations of war during the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Its darkness is only lightened by the humour and Benioff successfully mixes the two to present a well-researched version of his grandfather Lev's harrowing experiences in the coldest environment recorded; when ordinary citizens were dying on the streets from cold and hunger and some had even turned to cannibalism.

Benioff is a Hollywood screenwriter and author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over. He lives in Los Angeles and New York City. After taping his grandfather's memoirs of his boyhood experiences during the Second World War when Leningrad was under nightly attack from Nazi bombers, Benioff wrote this exceptional novel. It's a novel of great breadth and originality, based on Lev's life when, aged 17, the Germans invaded Vyazina where his mother and sister had fled to safety. He never heard from them again. His father, a famous poet, had already been murdered by the Nazis and Lev is suddenly alone.

When he's arrested for looting a dead German paratrooper, he finds himself sharing a cell in the notorious Crosses prison with a student accused of deserting his regiment. Will they be executed? Not if they complete a task in one week for the deadly NKVD Colonel who wants a special wedding present for his beautiful daughter. But finding a dozen eggs among a starving populace isn't that easy and the two men bond as they experience cannibals selling ground human sausage links, dogs used as bombs, frozen soldiers, no food and little energy to propel them forwards.

Killing becomes a matter of survival during war but for the Nazis it's a sport and a call for bloodlust. Benioff has turned to Curzio Malaparte's Kaputt for his information about their anti-partisan actions. The pleasures and brutality of their murders are sickening but compelling reading. It's important to know about it and to be aware how easy it is for people to degenerate into a sub-human primitive state and one wonders how those who survived and returned to their homeland managed to live with themselves afterwards.

Beautifully crafted, totally believable, wonderful characters and truth. Read it.

For more about the book and author, use this link:

Monday, 14 February 2011

Rose Tremain's Trespass a great read...

Melodie Hartmann, aged 10 has moved from an exciting cosmopolitan lifestyle in Paris to a village in rural Cevennes where the most excitement so far has been a school outing and picnic in an area once famous for its thriving silk worm industry. Viewed as snobby and superior by her village peers, she is bullied and runs off, straight into more excitement than she's had in her young life.

Her experience opens up a can of worms, silk or otherwise but it certainly kicks off Rose Tremain's Trespass with a bang and pulled me into it. I read it in two sessions owing to its unputdownable qualities - superbly written, fast-paced and full of drama and conflict. It's always a joy to read plots that are new and original and this is one of them and the flavour of France is an extra bonus for me. The spattering of ellipses all over the place was the only irritating thing I could find to moan about.

The action switches from London, where Anthony Verey, famed antique dealer has his shop in Chelsea to his older sister Veronica, a garden designer who lives with her lover Kitty, a wannabe watercolourist in Les Glaniques, a village in the Gard. Poor Anthony's brown furniture has fallen out of fashion and he's minded to sell up and move nearer to Veronica, much to Kitty's disgust.

Brothers, sisters, love, hate and change are ongoing themes in this book. Contrasting with Veronica's fierce loyalty towards her younger brother, we find a whirlpool of emotions running through the hatred between Audrun Lunel and her older brother Aramon who delighted in telling her in their younger days how she was really the daughter of a village woman and her Nazi lover during the war. Now neighbours on land they have inherited in La Callune, a village in Cevennes, Aramon wants to sell up to foreigners and can't because of Audrun's unsightly home marring his view.

Their lives become entwined with the Vereys when Anthony decides to view Aramon's farm. The story flows like a Grecian tide, carrying fascinating and bitter flotsam in its wake. Things will never be the same again for any of the characters by the end of Trespass.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Last Train from Liguria

Christine Dwyer Hickey's Last Train from Liguria covers the period between the wars leading up to World War II when Mussolini was instituting Hitler's recommendations for ridding Italian society of Jews and other foreigners who had contributed so much to their financial and cultural prosperity - something of an own goal for them both as it transpired. But we hear the rumbling sounds of war threatening to overthrow the status quo and Hitler holding rallies in Germany. This aspect was convincingly described but I found this an altogether curious novel with its irritating aspects outweighing its positive ones to the point of spoiling what could have been a very good read. If we're going to break the rules, we have to know why.

Absence of verbs

The author's descriptive ability has to be acknowledged. She produced some superb passages of high-quality prose, which were marred, for me at any rate, by 'sentences' containing no verbs. Many were short, sharp fragments, firing out like bullets from a gun, such as 'Time'. 'But'. 'One. Word.' Others were simply subordinate clauses, which made no sense without verbs or an attachment to sentences which they should have qualified, for example 'Since breaking up with Hugh, and even more again since leaving my job a fortnight ago.' How is that a sentence? And should it be the ending of the previous sentence or the beginning of the one that followed it?

Deliberate mistakes?

At first I imagined it to be the work of someone who was an inexperienced writer and whose publisher's editing needed an overhaul but this persistent style, which slowed down my reading, finally led me to the conclusion that it was simply a contrived style adopted by the author to show that she was prepared to break the rules, rather like Gertrude Stein viewed punctuation. I don't know which is true but the book was also full of literals, so perhaps Atlantic Books need to take more care with their editing and proofreading. In any event, it all spoilt my enjoyment of what could have been a good read and although reviews have been mixed, some of the ravers worry me. (Example: '...like someone who's just crossed the dessert.') Writing in present tense is another style I love to hate, although it was well sustained without dropping into other tenses, as so often happens. I find it mildly pretentious and too much like reading stage directions or having a camera following the action with a running commentary. But that's me and perhaps some people don't mind it.

Slow plot

The action in Bordighera, where our heroine, Bella has gone to look after a small boy belonging to a Jewish woman in the late 1930s is punctuated by fast forwards to 60 years later in London where she lies dying, tended by her 'granddaughter'. In this way, we learn more about what happened to her attempts to smuggle the child, Alex and his baby sister out of Italy to safety in England.

It's a slowly unfolding plot, long-winded and drawn out in parts, covering strands of information that don't appear to be particularly relevant to the actual plot at the time but that are, in fact, important to later events. It took quite a long time for our Bella to get to Italy and we had to follow her tedious journey and the family events at her London home that brought about her departure. This may have been deliberate as it leads up to and culminates in a faster paced crisis and climax. It left me with more questions than answers though, particularly, what happens to the baby when she grows up? And although the story begins with the reasons for Alex's piano teacher, Edward leaving Dublin and his journey to Italy in 1924, which gives it the dramatic start that we understand all good books need, giving the initial impression he was the protagonist, he then disappears from view until later in the story and never quite comes to life as a fully-rounded character.

Apart from that, the type was too small for me to read with ease.