Monday 30 June 2008

Oh my goodness!!! Just realised ...

Today is my first blogversary!!!

I'd nearly gone to bed when it struck me - it's exactly a year since I started musing online!

When I began, I was terrifically sceptical about blogs, bloggers and blogging. It all seemed horribly 'me, me, me' - self-absorbed, self-obsessed and very, very un-English and (perhaps therefore) un-me.

My first steps were extremely tentative. Furtive, almost!

Originally, I'd intended to use the blog merely as a vehicle to drive more 'traffic' towards my website and, hopefully, thereby to diversify my work a little.

But . . . after about a week (or less) I realised that in fact blogging was the perfect escape from work! And speaking as a self-employed, work-at-home person, I have to say that escaping from work is a rare treat and something of a necessity, though one which is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Work is always here. Piles and piles of it. On the PC from which I blog. On the desk on which my PC sits.

But blogging has opened up new worlds.

The past twelve months have been the most amazing journey.

Blogging has rescued me from dwelling on a series of downturns in my offline life, and offered a hugely positive way to reconnect with the outside world - and all from the comfort of my ergonomic, swivelling desk chair!

I have 'met', online, dozens of absolutely wonderful, lovely, generous, gifted, supportive, friendly, inspiring, entertaining people - from all over the world. Writers, artists, craftspeople, photographers, readers, philosophers, musicians, politicians, clergymen-and-women, and many quite extraordinary 'ordinary' people who blog.

My reading has become more focused, more critical, more rewarding.

I never go anywhere now without my trusty little camera. Musing about Mersea and about life in general has made me look at everything more closely, more creatively and with more appreciation.

My vague, random interest in sea glass - which I hesitated to mention at first - has led to correspondence with other collectors, with jewellers and painters, and has in turn (so I'm repeatedly told) inspired others to trudge along their local - or holiday - beaches with one eye ever on the lookout for these elusive and diminishing treasures.

I have a longish list of people, now, whom I think of as very dear friends but whom I've yet to meet in 'real life'. I plan to start with those in the UK (a large number of them seem to be in Devon for some reason!!) and then move on to those in Canada and the US and, who knows, maybe one day even Australia!

So watch out!

Oh, and I've even scooped up some work, after all! I have new clients who found me via Musings, visited my website and offered me work. But I regard this now as an incidental bonus. It's not at all what Musings is for.

I'm still not sure what 'Musings' is for.

But I'm going to carry on Musing, anyway . . .

Thanks for visiting. I hope you continue to find things of interest here. Do keep on posting comments - which, as every blogger knows, make it all seem worthwhile (and here I'd like to say a special 'hi' to my many 'silent' readers, and here's hoping that you'll be brave and say 'hi' back someday!)

Right, well, I've got that out of my system now, so I'm off to bed with a very good book.


Juliet xxxx

No time to write . . .

. . . been v busy turning these

. . . into this

+ school parents' meeting + son despatched to Devon for adventure holiday + only 2 hours' sleep last night = zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday 29 June 2008

Saturday 28 June 2008

Buy a Friend a Book Week prize draw

It's Buy a Friend a Book week and I've bought a wonderful book - one of my favourite bookish novels of all time - but I simply can't decide which friend to give it to.

So I'm putting it up for grabs in a free prize draw!

The book I have chosen is Harpole & Foxberrow, General Publishers by J L Carr, which I wrote about here recently whilst musing about Carr's much better known A Month in the Country.

It's published by Quince Tree Press in a very attractive edition, with a nice stiff red cover and illustrations by the author.

I can't really overstate how much I love Harpole & Foxberrow. It is the ultimate book-lover's novel, in my view. It's quite quirky in style and structure, so I suppose, in theory, it would be possible to hate it, but I can practically guarantee that, if you are reading this blog, then (a) you will love it and (b) you will probably never have read anything quite like it before.

Anyway, for your chance to find out whether I'm right, just leave a comment on this post and I will draw the lucky winner out of a hat next weekend.

Good luck!

(NB - there are also BAFABW giveaways on Juxtabook, Books4All, Write from Karen, Lori's Reading Corner and probably loads more, so why not pop over and have a look at those as well?)

Friday 27 June 2008


I've been editing books for (oops, can this be true?!) more than a quarter of a century now, but because I fell by accident into the non-fiction furrow, and for one reason of another have never ploughed myself across the other side of the field, the times when my work has impacted on my fiction reading habits have been rare indeed. But when it has happened, the effect has been notable.

For example, I've mentioned before that, had I not been familiar with the name of Alexander McCall Smith through my work on successive editions of the textbook on Medical Ethics which he co-authored, I might not so quickly have happened upon his No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books before they became big news in the UK. (And now he's one of the few writers for whose latest novel I will willingly queue at the bookshop door and gladly part with my hard-earned £££ for one of the first hardbacks off the press!.)

And then there was The Equal Opportunities Handbook, through which I encountered Martin Edwards, whose Harry Devlin and Lake District novels, short stories and erudite reviews have subsequently deepened my appreciation of crime fiction no end.

And now I have just finished reading a book which I'm sure I wouldn't have discovered, or purchased so eagerly, had it not featured in a fascinating article I copy-edited for a recent issue of the journal English Today. In '"Death of the mother tongue" - is English a glottophagic language in South Africa?', Rajend Mesthrie, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cape Town, uses insights from Kopano Matlwa's novel Coconut to illustrate the viewpoints and dilemmas of the new young Black elite in South Africa.

The term coconut ('dark on the outside, white on the inside') is a term of disparagement used in South Africa to describe a Black person who has allegedly lost their culture, by becoming 'assimilated' into activities, education and occupations once associated with Whites, or by having mixed racial friendship groups:

'Coconuts, it is felt, have crossed over culturally and linguistically, since they speak with a White accent. It is also alleged that they have lost proficiency in their home language. The sociology of the new elites is a fascinating one which is still being explored by applied linguists, educationalist and sociolinguists.'

So what is it like to be a young, beautiful, aspirational, Black South African, highly educated yet cut adrift from the bedrock of native language and culture? This is the central theme of Coconut. Written by Kopano Matlwa when she was a 21-year-old medical student at the University of Cape Town, it is a quite remarkable literary debut, and little wonder that it scooped the European Union Literary Award for the best first novel in English by an African writer.
It actually reads more like two sequential novellas, loosely linked by setting and character (the two protagonists, Ofilwe and Fiks meet, briefly, in a restaurant where one is a customer and the other a waitress) as well as by general theme.

Ofilwe lives with her wealthy family in a security-guarded executive housing development. She is beautiful, clever, attends the best school in the area and is encouraged by her upwardly mobile parents to associated with White friends wherever possible. Yet despite having, superficially, every advantage in life, Ofilwe is neither happy nor contented. She finds herself living in a kind of cultural limbo. She speaks and acts White, yet of course she is not, but neither is she 'properly' Black, since her parents have deliberately cut themselves off from their own family roots, rituals and, most importantly perhaps, their native language. Ofilwe lives, ultimately, a soul-less, dysfunctional family life and her popularity at school is constantly tempered by an undercurrent of ingrained racism amongst her White contemporaries.

Fiks, by contrast, is poor and sees becoming 'White' as a way of leaving behind all that she regards as 'bad' about being Black. To be happy, for Fiks, is to be rich and to aspire to the Whiteness which, for her, represents the passport to material success. She has a difficult relationship with her employer and with her customers at the restaurant and her propensity for escaping into a self-deluding fantasy world is largely explained by her complicated, sexually abused, childhood, which emerges little by little as her narrative unfolds.

Strangely perhaps, and unlike the South African-based book I read immediately before it, Frankie and Stankie (an accidental but most illuminating juxtaposition), this is by no means a political novel - in fact it seems to have no 'agenda' at all. It simply states the case for these two particular girls. As Matlwa says at the end of the book, this is just 'our story, told in our own words as we feel it everyday'.

The writing is in turns lyrical and dreamy and brutally yet unselfpityingly frank. And it is no accident that it has been taken up by academic linguists - one learns as much about the characters from their use of the English language as we do from what they actually say. Kopano Matlwa has an acutely keen ear.
The girls' stories offer no solutions and point towards much sadness and disappointment yet this is not a bleak or hopeless book. I found it both compelling as a story and full of the kind of insights which perhaps only fiction can deliver. Highly recommended.

You can read an excerpt from the book here , and see Kopano Matlwa herself reading from her novel in the video below.

Author photos by BOOKphotoSA

Thursday 26 June 2008

BookRabbit free books giveaway

If you haven't already registered with BookRabbit - the fast and friendly new way to buy books online and (if you so wish) link up with other readers with the same tastes - then now is definitely the time to do so.

New members get a free book while stocks last!

See here for full details.

A hastily scribbled note . . .

Eeeek! Too busy with work to post anything today, but have miraculously managed to find a few idle nanoseconds over coffee to visit a couple of other blogs and can heartily recommend the following:

A welcome retrospective of Quentin Blake's 'other' covers - ie not the children's books for which he is most famous - on the excellent Caustic Cover Critic (which is nothing like as angry-sounding as its name suggests!)

I've been following with interest the debate about female protagonists written by male authors on Petrona. The post and its fascinating comments relate mainly to crime fiction, but this is a terrific subject for wider discussion, I think. Are women better at writing convincing male characters than men are at creating female protagonists? If we cast the net wider and go back to Dickens, the Brontes, George Eliot, Hardy . . . what then? Is Tess of the d'Urbervilles a less convincing woman than Jane Eyre? Does it matter? Do we care?

I confess I've often considered that many contemporary women writers do get under the skin of their male characters in a way that most male writers don't quite manage with their 'leading ladies' (and I use that expression deliberately). But I'm aware that this view may be skewed by my own reading habits, gender-political leanings, academic studies . . . all kind of things, and not just by gut feeling. And of course there are some notable exceptions, some of whom are mentioned in the comments following Maxine's 'challenge'. I guess only a 'blind tasting' would really do the trick. An interesting excercise for a book group, perhaps.

Wish I had more time to think about this properly, but unfortunately my time is wholly consumed right now by a densely written typescript on the subject of the EU Markets in Financial Instruments Directive. Oh joy.

I can't sign off, however, without mentioning that I received a delightful email from a hitherto 'silent reader' of Musings - all the way from Prague, attaching a jpeg of a beautiful little watercolour of some sea glass. You can see some of Debara's paintings of sea glass and other 'finds' on her new blog here .

Wednesday 25 June 2008

The Cloud Appreciation Society

Hey, my rainbow cloud has now appeared on the Cloud Appreciation Society website!

The photo gallery editor, Ian, sent me this link, which explains how this phenomenon occurs (equinox -tick; midday - tick; cirrus clouds - tick).

Just the thing while you're enjoying a long cup of coffee, or lunch, or just an idle ten minutes - click here and start the slideshow. There are shots of clouds (and a few rainbows) from all over the world - from the everyday clouds we all too often fail to marvel at, to the breathtakingly beautiful and the wildly freakish.

Also on the Cloud Appreciation Society site I found a link to these amazing photographs of clouds from above - taken from the Space Shuttle.


To elder daughter's school concert last night at Colchester County High School. An amazing array of talent, as always. I marvelled once again at the astonishing poise and self-assurance of the young singers and instrumentalists, who performed music from Thomas Arne to Abba, Handel to Gershwin and a number of pieces they'd composed themselves. Too many goose-bump, tingle-factor moments to list.

SD#1 appeared early on in the proceedings in a small ensemble, performing a gloomy and angst-ridden piece entitled 'Happily Ever After', which she and five friends had written as a team effort. It was disappointing that the amp on her bass guitar didn't seem to be turned up loudly enough. In fact, it didn't seem to be turned on at all. She seemed to be playing along but either my hearing had taken a turn for the worse or something was decidedly wrong. Oh well, it was fine otherwise, and everyone clapped wildly when the piece ended and they trundled off the stage to make way for the next group.

In the interval, SD#1 came to find us: 'My guitar's, like, totally broken?', she wailed. 'I was, like, miming all the way through?'

I haven't assessed the damage yet, but it seems that someone had knocked the bass over and, when it crashed to the floor a couple of the pegs had bent or twisted to such an extent that it couldn't be tuned, or wouldn't hold its pitch, or something. I will pack an arm and a leg in a large-ish bag and take them with the guitar to the menders later in the week. I don't suppose it's going to be cheap!

Mercifully, her clarinet seemed to be intact and in fine fettle for the grand finale by the First Orchestra, which rounded off the evening - a long and challenging medley from Phantom of the Opera. More tingle moments.

Tuesday 24 June 2008


The beach this afternoon.

This piece of sea glass was hiding under an oyster shell! Sometimes, it's simply a question of knowing exactly where to look . . .

Not a bad haul for a short stroll.

More Romance on Three Legs

I while ago I reviewed Katie Hafner's new book about Glenn Gould's search for the perfect piano - A Romance on Three Legs. The book has now been published in the US and Canada and is available at, which ships internationally. ( currently shows only some used copies at ridiculous prices.)

Romance is going down a storm in Gould's native Canada. You can follow the progress of the author's launch tour on her new blog.

I thought Katie Hafner's book was terrific and it seems I'm not alone - see these reviews: Newsweek; The New York Observer; Ottawa Citizen; Corduroy Books and Blog Critic Magazine.

For a brief glimpse inside the book and to read the first chapter, click on the widget below:

Look Inside this book
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Monday 23 June 2008

Beauty, Love and Joy - my Fab Five

Goodness, this has never happened to me before - I've been nominated for a Blog Award!

Wow and gosh and I feel I should be wearing my best frock and shoes (though funnily enough I'm not) in order to accept the award most graciously and gratefully.

It come from Michele of Hedgelands Glass & Gems - who has helped take my idle interest in sea glass up a few notches to something approaching an obsession, and who has transformed some of my favourite pieces of Mersea sea glass into some lovely pieces of jewellery.

Thanks Michele!

So now it's my turn to nominate five bloggers who have brought Beauty [and/or], Love [and/or] Joy into my dull and muddy little life, by the sheer power of their blogging. And you will notice that I have put aside my oft-rehearsed, antisocial, sourpuss-won't-play 'no tags' rule for once - because I think this is something rather different and I do sincerely welcome the opportunity to highlight five of my favourite blogs and bloggers. I've mentioned and linked to them all before but here, all in one post (and in strictly alphabetical order) are my nominees:

Green Chair Press - one of the first blogs I encountered (through our mutual love of ampersands!) - and still one of those I find most visually stimulating. I adore Susan's creative talent and unerring eye for design, the freshness of her approach, the way she uses poetry in her work and just the sheer inky, tactile wonderfulness of her printing. As regular readers will know, a number of Susan's pieces have made their way across the Pond and now adorn my life and home - some of which I've mentioned here, here and here to list but a few of the times my own blog has been inspired and influenced by Susan's.

May December Home Accessories - I can't remember when or how I first landed upon Barb McMahon's May December blog, but I've been a regular visitor ever since. Barb has an amazing gift for spotting the interior design potential of all kinds of unlikely objects. She's a champion recycler, a generous advocate of the work of other designers and craftspeople, a great writer and all round lovely person. She runs three other excellent blogs: Pannifers Food and Such, Basically Unemployable and Stratford Daily Photo as well as being a guest contributor on several others, including Vintage Indie.

60goingon16 Warm, wise and wonderful, Diane's blog is just like Diane - unfailingly surprising, intelligent and thoughtful. Her posts have had me by turns falling off my chair laughing, signing up to campaigns and petitions, moved to tears, filling up my BookRabbit shopping trolley and downloading tracks from iTunes. I landed on 60goingon16 almost as soon as I started blogging (or maybe Diane landed on Musings first - I can't remember), and for me at least it was one of those 'ping!' moments when one simply knows one is going to like this person a lot. And nearly a year on, every time I visit 60goingon16, I still hear that 'ping!'

The View from the Last House in America - Kim and I 'met' through our mutual interest in the 1920s illustrator Gladys Peto (see Kim's blog here and my blog here). But her blog covers more than her love of art and illustrated books - there's family life on a farm which straddles the US/Canadian border, tours of local places of interest, and the latest addition to the family - the adorable puppy Maisy. And it was Kim who started the whole tea cup thing - so she's got a lot to answer for!

Uphilldowndale - home life, country life and the most wonderful photographs of 'watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in a rural area of northern England'. UHDD's pics are consistently wonderful - from spectacular sweeping landscapes to the most telling details from nature and local buildings. She has a keen eye for the quirky, the poignant and sometimes the unintentionally hilarious. In addition to the ones on the blog, there's a good collection of her photos on Flickr (check out in particular 'Square Circle', 'Tulip and egg' and some characteristically oblique shots from the Bakewell Show).

So these are my Famous Five - I raise my glass of supermarket Merlot you all!

(Should you feel so inspired, you may now nominate your own top five favourite blogs and perpetuate this Prestigious Award!)

Rainbow cloud

Many thanks to the farmer who emailed me this link from National Geographic after having seen yesterday's post about the strange rainbow cloud. I think what I saw must have been a smaller-scale version of the same thing:

'. . . it is caused by light passing through wispy, high-altitude cirrus clouds. The sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58° above the horizon). What's more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground. When light enters through a vertical side face of such an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, in the same way that light passes through a prism. If a cirrus's crystals are aligned just right, the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colors.'

The conditions here were absolutely right - the sun was at its zenith and this was a high-altitude cirrus cloud. I wish my photo had done it more justice - the full range of the spectrum doesn't show very well, but the yellows, greens and blue were definitely there.

If anyone knows any more about such phenomena, please do get in touch. Maybe it's quite common and I'm just very unobservant but I don't remember having seen a cloud like this before.

Sunday 22 June 2008


Well the Met Office got it wrong again! Heavy rains were forecast (they've been forecast all week but have never materialised). A glorious sunny day ensued. Walked from Cudmore Grove at the east of the island along the beach to West Mersea, battling against a strong breeze all the way - I feel completely sand-blasted! (I was hoping that this might have whittled a few inches off my outer edges but unfortunately it has merely turned me pink - or perhaps that was the sun ...)

Here's one of the island's WWII pillboxes - still remarkably intact.

Most of them have, like this one, fallen into the sea over the years - many of them have taken quite a tumble as the cliffs on which they were built have been eroded by the encroaching sea.

Rainbow cloud - I'd never seen one like this. What can have caused it?

The dog had a wonderful time.

Saturday 21 June 2008

TBTA and music to follow

Boy and I took a picnic lunch on our walk along the beach, and watched the boats taking part in the Old Gaffers' race from Brightlingsea. Weather overcast with threatening black skies, but it didn't ever quite get round to raining.

Off to Chelmsford (again) for another concert this evening (this is becoming a habit, but I'm certainly not complaining!). This time, it was the Waltham Singers and the Salomon Orchestra, joined by Schlosskirchenkantorei, on a visit from Weilburg, Germany.

Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, conducted by Andrew Fardell was followed by Mendelssohn's Psalm 95, conducted by Doris Hagel.

For me the high point had to be Elgar's The Music Makers, conducted by Andrew Fardell, with Margaret McDonald , mezzo-soprano. A magnificent and deeply moving performance.

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems . . .

Friday 20 June 2008


Looks so peaceful, doesn't it?

It was actually very noisy - as you can hear if you play this video clip. There's too much extraneous wind noise, unfortunately, because it was a breezy evening, but hang on in there and you'll hear at least a dozen varieties of bird-calls.

* TBTE explained

A bit of Friday ampersandering

The arrival of the proofs from hell (I simply couldn't bear to look!) curtailed my working afternoon, so to cheer myself up I've been finishing off the week by sniffing out a few nice ampersands:

Like this pretty lavender-coloured glass ampersand from SpareRoomStudio on Etsy.

An ampersand pendant from luv4sams, also on Etsy.

This Ampersand t-shirt seems to be in men's sizes only, unfortunately, or I'd wearing one right now!

Here's a gorgeous ampersand from the Zapfino typeface .

This characterful 'wrought iron' one is from the website of Rustique Interiors - a very interesting looking shop in Dalkeith, selling 'Refab Furniture' and 'found objects of desire'.

This satisfyingly chubby ampersand is from the Pistilli Roman font.

And finally, here's someone else who's got a bit of a thing about ampersands.