The Ice Cream Girls (Dorothy Koomson) and The Junior Officers’ Reading Club (Patrick Hennessey)

We had a small but very good gathering on Tuesday 30th April in our Common Room.

We discussed two books:  The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson and Patrick Hennessey’s The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars.

Some of us had read both books and the rest of us, just one.  Those who had read The Ice Cream Girls, had, on the whole, enjoyed it and thought of it as a bit of a page-turner.  It was an easy read, despite the difficult subject matter: two girls were accused of killing a young teacher who had coerced them into having sexual relationships with him during a period of a year, when they were fifteen and sixteen years old.  Due to his persuasive nature, they believed that he was truly in love with them and complied with his demands, even when he became violent.  The book begins some seventeen years later when one of the girls has served a prison sentence for his murder and the other has been able to create a new successful life for herself (although the memories of her past and the reappearance of the other girl are destined to bring it all up again).  It’s well-written and moves at a fast pace but we did find the ending somewhat disappointing.  Read it and see if you agree!  You may have seen the recent dramatisation on ITV – read, watch, then compare!   I listened to a very interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday which featured a case of two women in very similar circumstances whereby they explain how they were indeed drawn in in this way by a favourite teacher (click here to learn more), the showing of the ITV drama is very timely.

ice-cream-girls dorothy koomson


The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars saw Patrick Hennessey mature from a precocious Berkhamsted schoolboy to a gung-ho army officer through to a reflective young man who has seen war.  It is interesting to read of his schooldays and recognise characters in his book, mostly unnamed, which is probably a good thing!  It follows his time at Sandhurst and then onto war.  Patrick has subsequently written Kandak: Fighting with Afghans about his time in Afghanistan spent forging bonds and friendships with local soldiers.  He has visited our school twice in the last three years to speak to our Year 12 students as part of their tutorial programme and been well-received both times.  He has now left the army and is a writer and Human Rights lawyer based in London.

Poster "The camp library is yours - Read ...
Poster “The camp library is yours – Read to win the war. You will find popular books for fighting men in the recreational buildings and at other points in this camp. Free. No red tape. Open every day. Good reading will help you advance. Library War Service, American Library Association.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Week in December (Sebastion Faulks)

sebastian faulks

On Monday 8th April this year, a colleague and I went to the British Library to hear Sebastian Faulks in conversation with Steven Gale, which proved to be a fascinating and extremely enjoyable evening, forming part of the Cityread London month-long reading event.  Ostensibly, Faulks was talking about his novel A Week in Decemberwhat inspired him to write it and how he writes…  You can listen to a podcast of the event by following this link.

Faulks told how he wanted to write a contemporary novel set in London, reflecting the make-up of today’s society, which he certainly accomplishes with A Week in December.  He weaves the stories of his protagonists together, we see how their lives are disparate to begin with and intertwined by the end.  The focus is very much on what happens in a modern city from many perspectives: the financial and banking sector; the daily business of a politician and his wife;  the musings of a book critic;   and the lives of a female tube driver and her barrister her when she is faced with a court case concerning a surviving ‘jumper’.

We, together with two hundred fellow readers, sat down in the conference centre at the Library to enjoy about an hour and thirty minutes listening to one of Britain’s best authors talk and answer questions.  His deep and resonant voice was easy to listen to and we got a lot out of the evening. Who can resist, after hearing an author speak, buying one of his books and then have him sign it?  We both did, along with most of the audience, it was a great way to end the evening!

a possible life a week in december

World Book Day – a conclusion for 2013

I hope that you enjoyed our series of posts for World Book Day when we shared teachers’ favourites with you.  We certainly enjoyed hearing about what everyone is reading at the moment and are very happy to continue with celebrating in this way.  Quite often, it is difficult with our busy schedules and curriculum to squeeze extra moments to pause and think about reading, especially within the secondary school environment, but it’s good to know that there are others within our organisation who share our passion for books.  I read an interesting feature by Erica Wagner, Literary Editor of The Times where she talks about World Book Day celebrations in her son’s school, in last Saturday’s edition (9th March).  She says:

” My son’s in Year 8 now … so – thank heavens – he doesn’t have to dress up any more.  I’m pretty sure we did James Bond one year too (yeah, yeah of course there are the movies, but there were books first), and William Brown another.  This year, I offered to help his teacher in persuading a few authors to come into the school to speak to the kids, as well as offering to come in myself for an afternoon.  Well, easy enough for me to do from my position, you might say, and I wouldn’t be the the one to correct you.  But I like to think that it’s never a bad thing to do what you can, whatever that might be: I am not much good at all, I promise you, when it comes to helping out with sports day, and I know plenty of people who are.  And World Book Day wouldn’t be the huge success it is if it depended on people like me.

It does depend, however, on writers who have a passionate commitment to turning children on to the wonder and delight of books. ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ was broadcast from Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on Thursday, and presenter Tony Robinson said the goal was to reach three quarters of a million children… And it depends, most importantly, on every single parent, every single carer, who is able to reach out to his or her child – or niece or nephew, or friend’s child – with a book.  Of course it’s important that reading is part of the curriculum, and that children study books.  But the best way to study something is to discover, first, that you love it – and that’s what World Book Day is really about.”

What else can I say?

erica wagner Photograph:  Erica Wagner, The Times

world book day yellow


World Book Day : celebrations in school, part 5

English: The Diary of Samuel Pepys Esquire, F.R.S.
English: The Diary of Samuel Pepys Esquire, F.R.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have three more selections for you from our Drop Everything And Read series of posts on this blog.  Three more recommendations  reflect some older texts for you to consider.

Mr Pett read from Samuel Pepys‘ writings:  “I talked about an abridged version of the Diary of Samuel Pepys, focusing on how 17th century middle classes would enjoy themselves eating, drinking and going to executions.”

Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls
Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Harker chose an equally dark tale:  “I read 3 of my groups a scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the one where Jonathan Harker cuts himself shaving and Dracula goes crazy.  I told them the three things I liked about it were the language (e.g. salutations, from the Latin verb to greet, saluto, the fact that it was an epistolary novel (from the Latin word for a letter, epistula), and that the main character shared my name!  They seemed to enjoy the extract.”

Dracula (Photo credit: Ben Templesmith)
English: Bram Stoker (1847-1912), novelist bor...
English: Bram Stoker (1847-1912), novelist born in Ireland, author of “Dracula” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, Mr Moseley told me how he’d enjoyed a novel of William Golding‘s:  “I spoke to my students about one of the books I am reading at the moment The Spire by William Golding and we had a discussion about the book and how Golding uses symbolism in all his novels.”

Cover of "The Spire"
Cover of The Spire

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of blogposts and would welcome any comments about similar projects which you have undertaken, or about the books, poetry and literature featured here.

Recipe for Love (Katie Fforde)

Valentine’s Day 2013 heralds the release of Katie Fforde‘s novel Recipe for Love in paperback by her publisher, Cornerstone Publishing (a Random House company). Along with five wonderful women, I was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in filming a television advertisement for the release, which will be screened on Valentine’s day on More4 and several of the Sky television channels. A longer version of the advert will appear on the Random House website.

We had a super day which began with being taken to a pretty house in Balham, south London,  the selected location of filming.  The house has been used quite a lot for this activity, so once you’ve seen our ad, let me know when you’ve seen that kitchen before!  The first thing that happened to us was ‘hair and make-up’ which took quite a while and then we were filmed individually.  I was so surprised to find that, once in situ on my stool, a lot of time was spent making sure that ornaments and flowers were in their correct place, even one petal out of sync with a camera angle makes all the difference!  Did you know that pink flowers appear yellow sometimes?!  Everything had to co-ordinate with our outfits – apparently the trim on my cardigan looked as though it was moving independently of me!  We had been instructed to wear clothes that we’d wear when meeting a friend for lunch and not stripes or bright patterns…  The lunch theme worked particularly well given that we were in a kitchen!

Whilst filming was taking place, we were interviewed and had to remember to repeat the question being asked as the interviewer’s voice wasn’t going to be heard on-screen, not easy for someone with my short-term memory problems!  The production company would then go on to edit the ad right down to just a few words spoken by us as individuals, adding a group shot of us sitting around the kitchen table chatting and discussing the book.  It was a fascinating day and all was provided through our love of reading a particular author’s books.  Being a reader can bring you such a wealth of opportunities…

The book which we raved over was a super read, admittedly destined for the female readers’ market, but perfect for those moments when all you want to do is relax with a book to remove yourself from everyday cares.  It is based on a TV cookery show where the contestants compete to earn a good sum of money which they plan to use to advance their own culinary skills in some way.  Protagonist Zoe dreams of owning and running her own delicatessen and  the other contestants have similar ideas, owning a gastro-pub, a restaurant and so forth, but trouble-making Cher is just in it for the fame and celebrity status she craves.  Problems begin when Zoe falls for Gideon, one of the judges of the competition, and she has to manage her emotions, Cher’s attempts at sabotaging her success and her ability to help others out of crises.  Katie Fforde’s novel tells an entertaining tale, reminding us of the actual BBC TV competitions of The Great British Bake-Off and Masterchef.  Katie’s depiction of character and setting is so inviting that you can’t resist it, you can instantly recognise yourself and people and places you know, making it a comfortable read.

The best things about this day were the opportunity to meet some super people (I’m sure we’ll stay in touch), gain an insight into how a commercial is made and to understand how publishers work with authors on the promotion of their work.  Thank you, Cornerstone, for a great day!

recipeforlove5  Latest update!  To see an online version of our TV advert, please click here!

Katie Fforde
   Katie Fforde

Holiday reading…

Just back from a family holiday and I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to read five books so far this summer!  They were a varied group of books and I hope you like some, if not all, please let me know what you think!

It was lovely to begin the summer break, after the madness which always ends the school year, with Katie Fforde‘s Summer of Love. The paperback copy’s blurb has the following to say:

‘Sian Bishop has left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and has thrown herself into a new life in the country. With her young son, her picture-postcard garden and her small thriving business, she’s happy and very busy. She is not – repeat not – looking for love.  And then, one glorious summer evening, Gus Beresford arrives.  One-time explorer, full-time heart-breaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous – and, Sian tells herself, completely wrong for a romantically cautious single woman like her.  But she and Gus have met before. And, despite Sian’s best intentions, it isn’t long before she’s falling for him all over again …’

Katie Fforde leads us through Sian’s struggles with her emotions and her common sense, it’s a funny and lighthearted read and got me into my reading frame of mind.

Following on from this, came Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. This proved such a contrast and reminded me of William Boyd’s style of writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed Barnes’s storytelling, his use of language skilfully portraying the dusty atmosphere of reminiscence over events from Tony Webster‘s past, and the realisation of how past events reveal the difference in their meaning to the individuals concerned.   Tony, the narrator, tells the history of his relationship with three of his classmates from school and how, after they finish school, they begin to drift apart, except that one of his friends appears to be seeing Tony’s ex-girlfriend.  The repercussions of this new relationship are far-reaching and their impact is not felt until the closing chapters of the book.  It’s well-written and truly deserving of it’s winning of the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Vita Sackville-West‘s novel, All Passion Spent was my third book.  I cannot get over how much I enjoyed this missive, superbly written with careful choice of just the right words, Sackville-West’s delightful story of Lady Slane, her life, her love for her husband, her travels abroad with him (based, no doubt, on Sackville-West’s voyages with her husband, Harold Nicolson, when he was employed as an ambassador for the United Kingdom) opens new horizons and views on the lives of those who did travel like this during Britain’s Imperial days of the nineteenth century.  Sackville-West explores the position of the wife of an important statesman, appearing to assume a role in the background of her household, much loved by her husband however, but much misunderstood by her children as a result.  Her children are perplexed and confused as to why she chooses to live an independent life after the death of her husband when she is 88 years old, but she makes it clear that she wishes to live out the rest of her days as quietly as possible, to share them with her maid Genoux and a few select visitors who are entertaining.  It is a witty tale and I’ve been struck by one thing Lady Slane feels towards the end of her story:

“… [she felt herself] wondering why, at the end of one’s life, one should ever trouble to read anything but Shakespeare; or for the matter of that, at the beginning of one’s life either, since he seemed to have understood both exuberance and maturity.”

For my fourth choice of reading matter, I chose a non-fiction title: Life With The Lid Off by Nicola Hodgkinson.  The author tells of how her life was turned upside down when her husband left her and her young family to pursue a life with someone new but she tells it in such a way that shows no bitterness and often her sense of humour shone through, making me laugh out loud.  She shows how life in this new situation can be survived and only briefly touches on the pain she has suffered, and hardships and difficulties she  faced in coming to terms with her new situation.  Hodgkinson talks about her purchase of a gypsy caravan and how she bought a cottage on the Suffolk coast, gradually integrating herself and her family into the small local community.  I loved it!  Both this title and All Passion Spent will be forming part of our Mood Boosting Book Week in school in October.

My last completed book for the time being is Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress Another fabulous book!  I loved her easy style which relayed a fascinating take on World War II from the perspective of three women: a young American journalist as she reports from London to a broadcaster based in the States about the Blitz and its effects on London’s citizens, the new wife of a doctor who feels compelled to travel to London to assist with casualties of the Blitz and the postmistress, who runs the post office in the small town in Cape Cod, also home to the doctor and his wife.  Blake weaves her story around the lives of these three women and shows how they all come together in the end.  Her prose passionately reflects the feelings, fears and hopes of these women.

I’m currently reading and enjoying Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News.  Unfortunately I saw the film first but sufficiently long ago not to spoil the enjoyment of the book so far…

Great House (Nicole Krauss)

Cover of "Great House: A Novel"
Cover of Great House: A Novel

At our Reading Group meeting on Tuesday 13th March, we discussed Nicole Krauss‘s latest novel Great House.

We had another lovely meeting  after school which, (I think!), was enjoyed by all.  I was the only person who confessed to liking the book which I have yet to finish, but we still had a lively debate about how each individual story tied in with all the others to make a whole.  We felt that we almost needed a notebook to hand during our reading of this book in order that we could record all the details as we went along and thereby remember and make the connections!  Even though most said that they didn’t like it, we still talked for a good amount of time about this book.  I had chosen it, having loved Krauss’s first book (The History of Love), as I’d wanted to read it a while ago, but I’ll open the floor for everyone to choose in the future!  Some of us felt that with this book and The Finkler Question from our first meeting,  we were on the outside looking in on this world that we do not belong to.  This said, there did seem to be a consensus that whilst the book appeared self-indulgent, it was well-written and the author has skilfully employed the English language to tell her story.

Krauss’s novel tells the tale of a desk, which passes through the homes of various people at different periods of the twentieth century.  It crosses continents as we follow its journey from Budapest to London, from there to Chile, then to New York and finally to Israel and in travelling this journey with the desk, we learn how the lives of those in whose care it lies, intertwine and connect. I feel that it is a great piece of writing but the wonderful thing about Reading Group meetings is the sharing of ideas and how we can each add to the discussion with our own interpretations.