Sunday, 18 October 2009


Now I got that Obama business out of the way ... A new thing for me to explode like that! on line - that is. However, a lot's been happening during this summer break during my self-imposed rule of silence. Where shall I start...

I've begun a new book; DREAMING WORLDS AWAKE, Stories, dreams, synchronicities and correspondences, (with a scatter of short poems).

I've also been reading quite a bit too. Amazon, for some reason invited me to write a review of the recent book's I'd bought, and overcoming the old reticences and habits, I thought I'd have a go. The two most recent were, When Skateboards Will be Free: my reluctant political childhood, by Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts. I don't think I'm very good at reviews, don't seem to have the kind of mind it takes, but I did one and sent it up, only to have it rejected. Actually, I thought, in the end, it wasn't all that bad. So I do wonder why they didn't see fit. Reading other examples, yes, there are several, almost, I'd say, professional write-ups - and looking at the profiles of the contributors, they seem to have been doing this sort of thing for many years. But on the other hand there are a few rather ordinary or even poor ones. The one I gave 5 stars to, Sacred Hearts, one reviewer found nothing to say, but 'Boring, boring, boring and predictable. I could see the ending coming right at the beginning.' Pity she didn't get the bits in between, is all I can say. But then, she was from Texas!

Here is what I wrote on Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts; I'll leave you to judge.

This is wonderful! We have so much quality writing about these days that I always feel the book I'm reading at the time is the best yet, but Sarah Dunant's latest novel transported me so convincingly into the heart of this Sixteenth Century convent life, that I was living it alongside her. Hers is a gift which only a writer with the power to inhabit its every aspect can call up.

One facet brought home to me was how, in spite of its religious practices, some of which, in their extremes of self-induced suffering appear bizarre to us in this secular age, convent life offered women of that time the opportunity to develop innate talents; artistic, musical, horticultural and medical, with a degree of respect and authority impossible outside its walls. Above all, what impresses is the sheer beauty of its language invoking with fiery passion the love story at its heart - and perhaps inviting questions on the nature of Love itself.

The developing relationship between the two central characters, the novice Serefina and Suora Zuana, is warmly and subtly drawn. Zuana is basically a healer; knowledgeable in a wide range of medicinal plants, the remedial properties and modes of application which she has learned at her physician/apothecary father's knee. She has inherited his books - at least the ones which remained after his students and other visitors, in the wake of his sudden death, had smuggled out - as well as inheriting his intuitive and scientific mind. As a healer she cares, is compassionate, (as far as the onerous and rigid rules of the convent allow,) and the Madonna Chiara, head of the order, is canny enough to place Serafina into her care. And what a task that is! Torn from her relationship with her young and musically talented lover by a father whose interest is in making the best possible alliance with another prominent family, Serafina is uncontrollably distraught. He has sold this daughter, in effect, to the convent. A sentence no better that life imprisonment.

Madonna Chiara herself is fascinating: Zuora says of her, that, not only does she display great political skill in running a prestigious order of nuns during a time when the forces of the counter-reformation were playing out a struggle for the power to direct men's souls, but she could run a empire equally well!

As a writer myself, albeit one who came to the craft rather late in life, I bow to a Master. My own books address questions concerning life in the body and life of the spirit, but from a different perspective, not of unsustainable old beliefs, but one which takes Today out into the Future.

Maybe it was this last para they didn't like! OK. point taken!

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