All Cornwall Thunders At My Door by Laurence Green

All Cornwall Thunders At My DoorCharles Causley was undoubtedly one of our finest poets, whose poetry covered the widest spectrum, including deceptively simple poems for children. This meticulously researched biography is a must have for anyone who enjoys his work. Events from the poet’s life are described alongside extracts from the poems, so if you’ve ever pondered the significance of any particular imagery created by Causley then you may well find the answer here.
Before WWII he was a bookkeeper in a small company. He spent the war years in the Royal Navy and afterwards trained as a teacher. He completed the training just as a vacancy occurred in the school in Launceston that Causley had attended as a child. He got the position and returned to the town to live with his widowed mother. During the long school holidays they often toured Europe together. They shared houses until she died in 1971.
He was a complex man, seemingly modest and unassuming, but at times it was plain that he had a clear idea of his own worth – given the number of awards he received, it would have been hard not to.
The book reveals his friendship with the leading poets of the time, particularly John Betjeman and Ted Hughes, and quotes an amusing story that Hughes used to tell about the time that Causley took him into school to meet his class.
After retirement from teaching he had spells as Writer-in-Residence at both Australian and Canadian universities.
The author has had access to the poet’s diaries and other personal records in the creation of this first biography. The result is a fine biography from someone who clearly admires and respects his subject, but who hasn’t avoided tackling the potentially difficult areas of Causley’s life. I found it a fascinating read.
It’s available from Amazon in paperback and ebook for Kindle formats.

T E Lawrence: an extraordinary man.

We recently visited Clouds Hill, the tiny woodland cottage in Dorset once owned by T E Lawrence and now owned by the National Trust. He acquired it from relatives as a bolt-hole to escape the pressures his fame had brought. The material that the National Trust has on display, together with standing in the tiny room where he spent so much time with friends such as George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves and Henry Williamson, made me want to find out more about this extraordinary man. It didn’t take me long to realise that a man about whom ninety books have been written (one of which is described as an encyclopaedia) is an impractical subject for a single blog post – but I’ll give it a go anyway.

Clouds Hill

Clouds Hill

His fame derived from his exploits during WWI. He wrote about those experiences in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom that formed the basis of the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. I doubt if I can tell you anything about that part of his life that you don’t already know, so I’ll concentrate on his interesting personal life.

His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat with an estate in Ireland had four daughters and employed Sarah Junner as their governess. Chapman had an affair with Sarah. She became pregnant, left the household and gave birth to a son, Robert. So far that’s not an unusual story, but Chapman then left his wife, daughters and estate to run away with Sarah and Robert. They seemed to find it hard to settle, with brief spells in Wales, Scotland, France, Jersey, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire before moving to Oxford in 1896. Continue reading

The Tent, the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy.

Cover imageI enjoyed many camping holidays through the 1970s and I thought this would be a gentle reminder of the pleasures and pains of those trips. The book would have been more acceptable if described as a comic novel, but it is supposed to be a true account of family holidays: frankly, I don’t believe it. The first chapter sets the standard. The family car has starter motor problems. When Father gets to his mother’s house he refuses to stop the car so aged Granny has to dive into a moving vehicle. Really? If he’s having problems with the starter motor a driver would naturally be reluctant to stop the engine, but that doesn’t mean he can’t stop the car – they have clutches for just that purpose. When they get to the campsite they pitch the tent on a slope so steep that when Father and Grandmother fall over in the mud they slide down the hill and narrowly avoid going over the cliff. Father then breaks into an unoccupied caravan so they can shelter from the storm, but their movement dislodges the caravan from its mounts. They jump out and watch the caravan roll down the hill, END OVER END, and into the sea. Hmmm! Apart from such outlandish events, the book relies for its humour on endless pee and poo incidents and the fact that Mother swears like a trooper.
Emma Kennedy has an impressive writing pedigree. She has written for radio, television and the theatre and has the Wilma Tenderfoot series of children’s books to her name. She is also the current travel writer for The Guardian. How strange, then, that she should be so far off the mark with this one – and how baffling that there are so many 5* reviews on Amazon.

The book is available from Amazon The Tent, the Bucket and Me


The Complete What Ukelele Players Really Want to Know by Barry Maz

Cover imageBarry Maz, usually known as Baz Maz, is a well-known ukelele player who runs a website for beginners. The website is regularly updated with content that is aimed at those who are new to the instrument. Along the way he published three books in which he collected together key information. He has now combined all three books into this one volume – hence the title. The current boom in folk music in the UK means that thousands of would-be musicians are buying the cheaper instruments – and string instruments don’t come much cheaper than bottom of the range ukeleles. Which must mean that there are a lot of people out there who will find this invaluable. It deals with the basics in a very accessible way – and it’s so cheap that it has to worth having. As far as I was concerned, it immediately paid for itself with the guidance given on fitting new strings.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon where it is also available in print format. The Complete What Ukulele Players Really Want To Know

Mad Dogs & Englishmen Ranulph Fiennes.

Mad Dogs and EnglishmenFrom the title and cover blurb I thought this was going to be a look at some of the more eccentric members of the author’s family – but it wasn’t. Fiennes can trace his family tree back to two generations before the Emperor Charlemagne. Throughout much of that 1200 years members of that family have been king-makers and king-breakers on both sides of the Channel.
As a result, this book provides a look at the history of our country over that period, written in a very entertaining and engaging style. If you’ve found history a dry and tedious subject, this excellent book may just change your mind.

I bought it for Kindle but it is also available in print format. Mad Dogs and Englishmen: An Expedition Round My Family

Captain Scott by Ranulph Fiennes

Cover imageFiennes is becoming one of my favourite authors. I love the forthright writing style. His experiences mean that he writes about this subject with the conviction that comes from a personal knowledge of the conditions and difficutlies that Scott and his companions endured. If his strength of feeling means that his passionate defence of Scott leads him to overstate his case on occasions, well, I find it easy to forgive him. Another absorbing read from Fiennes.

I bought it for Kindle but it is also available in print format from Amazon. Captain Scott

1227 QI Facts to Blow Your Socks Off by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson

Cover imageIf you enjoy the QI programme, you’ll love this fantastic collection of the weird and the wonderful. I got it in the Kindle format (for the bargain price of 20p when it was on special offer) and read it all the way through without stopping. Now I’m going through it again reading out loud to anyone who’ll listen. One point is that this is probably better bought in the print format as it’s the perfect coffee table book; your friends will enjoy dipping in – but they’ll have trouble putting it down.

I bought the Kindle version, but the print copy is also available from Amazon. 1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off

WordPress for Beginners by Andy Williams

Cover imageDr Andy Williams is a professional internet marketer who writes a popular ezine and runs courses on the topic.

I’m a technophobe at heart, especially where anything to do with IT is concerned. I suspect that the main reason for this is that, lacking any instinctive understanding, I need a detailed instruction manual to help me get to grips with anything that is new to me – and the geeks who really understand these things seem incapable of writing the manual that I need.

So it was both a relief and a pleasure to find this guide. It starts at the very beginning of website creation with advice on hosting and domain name registration, and then goes through the process of creating a website/blog using WordPress. It does it painstakingly, step-by-step, with screenshots of every stage.

It has convinced even me that I am capable of creating an attractive, effective site. If only all such instructional guides were this good.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon WordPress for Beginners: A Visual Step-by-Step Guide to Creating your Own WordPress Site in Record Time, Starting from Zero!

Healing Meditations for Surviving Grief and Loss by Sibel Hodge

Cover imageSibel Hodge usually writes chick lit/rom coms. This short non-fiction guide could hardly be more different. Using the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon gives access to the Introduction (that gives a down-to-earth introduction to the themes of grief and loss); a list of the key stages of the grief process; some sensible comments on the transition involved and a list of ways of coping with grief and loss.
This is all expressed in a forthright, easy to read fashion and what follows in the rest of the book continues in the same vein.
The need to allow oneself space to grieve is stressed and there are examples of how expressing one’s thoughts/feelings in writing can help ease progress towards peace of mind.
The latter part deals with ‘meditations’, which here means the use of yogic mantras to adjust mental outlook. More than 150 mantras are provided. The user can select any with which they feel comfortable, or use them as the basis for creating their own, varying the choice of mantra as the grief process progresses.
This review would no doubt be more useful if it came from a reader who had actually used the book to steer them through the grieving process. No doubt there are longer and more learned books on this difficult subject, but I’ll be recommending this book, which is clearly written from the heart, to those whom I believe will be in need of the help it offers.

Available as an ebook for Kindle from Amazon. Healing Meditations for Surviving Grief and Loss

The Book of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould

The Book of Were-WolvesThis book isn’t an easy read. For one thing, it was written in 1865 which carries with it the usual problems of the writing style and idioms of a different time. For a second, there are lengthy passages in Latin and French that the reader has to translate. And finally, this is one of those free Kindle editions full of scanning errors. I know I shouldn’t complain after someone has given up their time to make a book freely available, so this isn’t a complaint, but an observation.

Having said that, this is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the derivation of the surprisingly-widespread werewolf myth. The author starts with the Ancient Greeks and then moves to the Icelandic Sagas where he finds examples of three different forms of lycanthropy. It appears that the Berserkrs have a lot to answer for. He then traces the spread of the myth through Europe following the spread of the Nordic tribes.

There is no doubting the strength of belief in the existence of werewolves. Baring-Gould quotes at length from various court reports involving cases of people being tried for being a werewolf, including the evidence supplied by witnesses, and even confessions.

We are also taken to Africa and North American for examples of belief in transformation, if not in werewolves.

As a bonus there’s a description of the derivation of dragon mythology.

Unfortunately, the book goes off track in the latter stages when the author covers, in great detail, court cases concerning acts of multiple sadistic murders which, horrifying as they are, seem to be examples of savage blood lust and nothing to do with werewolves.

I downloaded the free Kindle edition from Amazon. The Book of Were-Wolves