The Fifty Words That Started It All

I found this under my bed the other day…

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To the vast majority of people it represents just another book. Priced at £16.99, to my parents it probably represents an overpriced, emotional blackmail purchase, but to me it will always represent something far more significant. Unknown at the time (and for many years afterwards), this represents a key cornerstone in my life so far. For in this thick little book is my first ever published piece of writing.

Back when I was thirteen years old my English teacher got the class to write mini S.A.G.A.S (short, adventurous, gripping amusing, stories), short pieces of writing no longer than fifty words in length. At the time we were suitably hyped up by the prospect that the top students would get their work published in a book. My teacher’s words had the same effect on me as a child on blue Smarties (I was that sort of kid). Rising to the challenge, I poured out tens of short pieces in quick succession. While my peers scratched their heads over content, I found the greatest difficulty was knowing when to stop. Fifty words in which to write a complete, self-contained, passage is actually quite hard. In the end I selected the piece of work I felt best reflected who I was and my writing style (it was also the piece that my teacher chose to read out to the class. Take that Will Townsend!)

Unfortunately what our teacher had failed to tell us was that being selected to appear in the book wasn’t quite the big achievement originally billed up to be. It turned out that every submission made it to print, so long as their parents were prepared to stump up the money to buy the book in advance. Barring one girl, everyone in my class got a mention in the publication (even Will Townsend). Of course at thirteen this didn’t stop me being dead chuffed that something I’d written had achieved a degree of recognition. It meant that someone had seen value in my work. The fact that I still own this book in a state of near mint condition says it all.

Flicking back through the pages of Mini S.A.G.A.S. all these years later I still feel the same way as I did then, that for a thirteen year old my entry is by far the best. It’s certainly the most cohesive and unique of my class and regional peers (oh yay, yet another entry about a crush). And, although it would take another eight years to get me into proper writing, I like to think getting a little piece of my mind published sowed the seeds of creativity. If there was a prologue to my blog’s creation this would be it.

(And the best bit? You’ll never know what it was.)

Five Minute Review: The Classic Cocktail Bible

How do I sum up this book? Alcohol, that’s how. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Amusingly you open the cover and see not a Drink Aware message, but instead a warning against consuming raw eggs (a foodstuff that features in some of the recipes.) Sandwiched between the hard covers of this recipe book are some very attractive looking images and nice little introductions to each drink (where their name comes from, the type of ingredients in the drink etc.). You’ve got the classics, your Mojitos, Bloody Marys Martinis, but you’re also got the different, for example Kinky Witch, Rusty Nail and Bobby Burns. In many ways there is something for everyone here* (unless you’re teetotal or under eighteen, in which case no, there isn’t).

All this however doesn’t detract from the simple truth that, as with all cocktails, you need about 100 different spirits and mixers tucked away in the cupboard to make them. The Classic Cocktail Bible is a classic by name and a classic of its genre; it is a book which sits on one’s shelf for many months/years until one day you think “oh, I really fancy a Cosmopolitan right now, I’m sure I can make that”. You open this book to mild disappointment when realise you can’t so instead you reach for a can of cider and consume that instead.

The Classic Cocktail Bible is a must have for the coffee table of the young professional or the kitchen cupboard for the impulsive buyer but be warned, it takes more than vodka and coke to make a good cocktail.

Francesca Martinez: “I may be Disabled but at Least I’m not a Pot of Hummus or Donald Trump”

My recent review on the brilliant comedian Francesca Martinez:

http://www.theswindonian.co.uk/francesca-martinez-i-may-be-disabled-but-at-least-im-not-a-pot-of-hummus-or-donald-trump-swindon-literature-festival-2017/

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Five Minute Review: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

Ergh, do I have to spend five minutes on this? Ok, fine.

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella is a rom-com novel, based in and around the streets of Rome, Italy. The plot follows the story of two Italian men who work in the restaurant industry, as they fight for the love of one woman (what’s new there?) The more attractive of the two, self-styled player Tommaso, woos the fair American student, Laura, first by convincing her of his extraordinary culinary skills. The catch? He cannot cook to save his life. However his roommate, the less attractive and uncharismatic chef Bruno, can. Secondary catch, he too is in love with Laura (dun, dun, duuun). So instead of confessing his love what does he do? He helps his player friend by teaching him culinary skills to charm the fair lady, thus becoming the ultimate wing man/gooseberry. Unsurprisingly as the lie gets bigger so too does the (supposedly) hilarious consequences.

As my sister noted when I told her the synopsis, The Food of Love story is basically an Italian version of the Disney film Ratatouille. If you liked that story, but wanted something with more sex, swearing and over sexualisation of mushrooms then you’ll probably enjoy this. *

I should have known that this book would not be an Austen or Orwell when I picked it up in a charity shop for 50p (on sale). At the time I needed a light read as a rest bite from more serious subject matter. No guesses for where my copy will be swiftly going back to in the next week.

*FYI rats and bestiality do not feature in this novel, at least the author didn’t stoop to that level.

Five Minute Review: Five Go on a Strategy Away Day (Parody) by Bruno Vincent

Five little minutes, one little book. This one should be easy…

Five Go on a Strategy Away Day (hereafter “Five Go…“) by Bruno Vincent is a short story based on the original Famous Five classics written by Enid Blyton in the 1940s/50s. At only 105 pages long, Five Go… is a quick book to pick up and complete in one sitting. As a slightly slower reader I was able to read this title cover to cover during my train commute (and that’s with two train changes in between). Perfect if you want something to easily tackle in one go, less of an interest if you’re looking for a more long term investment that you’ll come back to time and time again.

The story follows Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog as they tackle the nightmares of a poorly managed team away day. As I read this there were certainly some laugh out loud moments. More than anything because, as someone who has previously had to help organise team building days on a budget, I can heavily relate to some of the scenarios contained in these pages (Eg, “I’ve got 485 unread emails back at the office, so why am I here?” [sic]).

Five Go… isn’t a book to go for if you’re looking for value for money, no doubt my copy will stay on the shelf for a number of months before it gets relegated to a charity shop (as per the millions of other copies in circulation around the country), however it was a nice little pick up to cheer me up and take my mind off work and world issues, even if for just an hour or two.

Five Minute Review: The Garden In The Clouds by Antony Woodward

Five minutes, one book, one review.

The Garden in the Clouds by Antony Woodward is an autobiographical novel depicting the author’s move from London to the Welsh borders. Woodward’s narration of events takes the reader down the rocky journey he personally experienced in his attempts to get his five-acre plot into the famous National Gardens Scheme (alias ‘the Yellow Book’).

Whilst this book is humorous and light hearted, you get a strong feeling of the inner frustration, difficultly and financial resources ploughed into what I personally thought was a rather unattractive house and garden to start with. I felt the author’s London background resulted in a writing style that overly romanticised country life to a point where it sounded like all rural folk are cheery, friendly people, happy to assist with demolished walls caused by clumsy urban folk wanting a taste of ‘the good life’. I’ll save you the trouble of finding out for yourself, we’re not.

This was a nice little read when sat in the bleakness of January, but I wouldn’t view The Garden in the Clouds as a particularly inspiring tale. It paints a sickly, unrealistic, image of rural life that has not existed for fifty years. Woodward’s need to become ‘at one’ with the landscape seemed so stereotypical you’d think he’d Googled ‘country life’ and adopted all the hobbies that came up on the listing. The National Garden’s Scheme, using a vintage tractor to make hay, keeping bees, in fact all that was missing was sheep farming (unfortunately his neighbour beat him to that one). If I was him I’d have saved myself the time, money and stress and bought myself somewhere in the South of France.