ACW

ACW

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Sense of another place

'There was a break in the low-hanging cloud, and the sun had broken through and was glancing off the distant tip of a white topped wave, making it glisten and dance in the light. She found herself with a hint of a smile on her lips.' from The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Before a recent operation, I went to the library to get in a pile of books. Being at home for the two week recovery period would be challenging for someone who gets cabin fever after a whole day in, so I wanted to be prepared. I came back with a gratifying wedge of Joanna Trollope - The Soldier's Wife - an Anne Tyler, The Keeper of Lost Things by a new author everyone was raving about, and a paperback by someone called Jenny Colgan. I like to put my library books in a pile on the side table next to the big sofa, where I can reach to stroke them, read the blurbs and luxuriously flit from one to another until I decide which will be my current read.

The day after I got homel, while everyone was rushing out to the Good Friday service or to buy last minute Easter eggs, I made coffee and curled up with my blanket, my sore sinuses and my books. What a delight to know I had two weeks of unbroken reading, if I wanted it! The Soldier's Wife was interesting. My dad had been in the army and my childhood was pock-marked with his absences in some of the world's most dangerous places. I clearly remember my mum's haunted looks whenever the vicar came to call, and her relief when it was about the choir or the Harvest Supper. The Keeper of Lost Things was divine - beautifully written and moving. I love Anne Tyler but strangely wasn't in the mood for her. It was the Jenny Colgan book that surprised me most of all.

Please forgive me for my snobbery, but it's not the kind of book I usually read. It was called The Little Shop of Happy Ever After. The cover was a bit twenty-something-chick-lit with a cross-legged girl in pink trousers on the ground reading a book. Not that's there's anything wrong with that, but I'm in my fifties, wear Marks and Spencers jeans and am fast approaching the "while I'm down here..."stage of life, regarding the ground generally. But I was attracted by the blurb, which was by the author and directly addressed the reader, promising a cosy read. It was a bit different. And the story really appealed to me - after quitting the library when her beloved job helping people choose books turns into a computer role, Nina leaves Birmingham and turns a clapped out old van into a mobile bookshop in the Scottish Highlands. It was wonderful. Now I'm onto my second Jenny Colgan, The Little Beach Street Bakery. I'm totally converted. Happily there are hundreds (well, perhaps not hundreds but a lot).

I've been trying to analyse why I love her books. They are simply written, involve some kind of love interest and are not particularly thought provoking or surprising. But their real strength, in my opinion, is in their sense of place. Who wouldn't want to escape their current life to live in the beautiful Scottish Highlands selling books? Or heal from the past by doing up an old house on a tiny island and baking your way into the community's hearts. Yes, they might be a bit far-fetched, with unashamedly happy endings, but they transport you to a different world where you hear sea gulls or see mountains or live above a bakery with a view of the sea. And sometimes, after a bad day, or an operation, or a wrestling match with the London parking police, that's just what you need.

It made me think about what I want to write. Of course it's right to challenge people at times, to explore difficult issues or discuss new ideas. And quality is important - beautiful words that are well crafted and inspirational. It's good to write, and read, such things. But sometimes should we just give people what they want instead of something we think is good for them? A soothing journey to another place where, in the end, the sky turns blue and dreams come good. Despite a sort of (shameful) prejudice against such books, I am realising they have their place.

Obviously it helps to write books people want to read, if we want to sell them. But to what extent should we do this? Should we ever compromise what we really want to write, to get our name out there? Could this 'earn us the right' to say other things later? Or should we write what is on our hearts even though it's a bit quirky, a bit different to anything else we've seen?

These and other questions are always on my mind as I hammer out my story, trying my best to craft something thoughtful but also to give people a break from their own lives, a sense of another place.

Please click on the link to see the novella

Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver. 








14 comments:

  1. It's a question I have asked myself too. And there is, as you say, a place for all kinds of stories, because there are times when, whatever our normal taste, we want something different - whether more or less challenging. Thank you for your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! It's so true that we want different things at different stages of life. Who knows? Perhaps I'll want to read motoring magazines one day 😉

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  2. Lovely, Deborah. I like the sound of The Little Beach Street Bakery and it will go on my 'to be read' list. It's odd how we can be 'snobby' about the books we read ... I remember being conscious of which ones I added to my facebook profile! However, you're right - they do all fill a place and time in our lives ... and right now, I need to read about the seaside and breadmaking. :D

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    1. In that case, Agatha, Jenny Colgan's books are for you! Enjoy them and I hope they cheer you considerably 🙂 x

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  3. I like the sound of both of these, especially the one set in Scotland. I wonder why?

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    1. The one in Scotland is delicious Wendy, mainly because of the wonderful descriptions of the scenery. I've only ever been to Edinburgh and it really wet my appetite for other parts of Scotland!

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  4. What it goes to show is that the more we read, the more it makes us think about our own writing. That happens to me all the time. I'm sure I make a tiny adjustment to my style each time I read something I love. Great post - good to read. And your 'while I'm down here' comment tickled me!

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    1. So true. This is exactly the same for me, which is partly why when I get to the end of my novel I have to go back and change so many things. Maybe I should stop reading! 😉

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  5. Reading your post was as refreshing as the books you describe. We knot ourselves up, as Christians, over what we "should" write about, and forget that there is much joy to be found in the seemingly trivial, inconsequential sometimes. I wouldn't wish an operation on anyone, but two weeks of having to read sounds very appealing right now!
    I hope you continue to recover well xx

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    1. Thank you Jane! You are so right about the 'knot yourself up' thing. Sometimes we perhaps need to be less 'spiritual' about things. Or rather, change our view of what is and what isn't spiritual 😉 Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Checking in as another reader who likes to be taken to a more pleasant place than the one I'm living in. Just finished a 'Miss Read' - certainly not great literature, but heartwarming, well-written and a great solace when in a post-operative state (which I am too). Nothing wrong with comfort reading as part of a balanced literary diet! (after all, the Bible also contains many passages that take us to better places and give us comfort and escape).

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    1. Oh I love Miss Read! I have read them all. And they are comfort reading for me in so many ways, not least that they conjure up a teaching life I sometimes yearn for. I wonder why 😉? Hope you are recovering well Veronica. Have been praying for you.

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  7. Thank you for admitting to being snobbish about what you read ... and for giving permission to everyone to enjoy a wider variety of books than perhaps we would normally do. And that sense of subconscious yearning for another place, another life, which transports us out of the everyday even for just a while, and which can actually be very therapeutic. Hope you are healing well, Deborah.

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  8. Thanks so much Penelope. A very good friend, who loved the Lord, and tragically died very young, used to say she knew her longing for another place was really a longing for heaven. I always like to think that as a reader it's a taste of heaven I long for, and as a writer, yearn to give others 🙂 Am healing well thank you. Hope all is well with you x

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