Monday, 23 January 2012

Thank You Notes

If you haven’t already written your Christmas thank you notes, don’t worry; it’s not too late. Here are some tips for writing the perfect thank you note. If you’ve already penned your Christmas thank yous, you can apply these tips to birthdays, anniversaries, spontaneous-non-corporate-initiated gifts, etc.

* I usually start in one of two ways:
1) by saying how great it was to see the giver on Christmas/ my birthday/ etc and mention something that you did together: maybe you played a few board games or went for a walk. If you shared a particular moment/ funny story then refer to that.
2) If the gift was posted then I say that I hope they had a good Christmas/ have been keeping well. I then briefly say that I had a good Christmas, it was quiet/ hectic/ a lot fun or I say that I’ve been keeping well, and give any significant news.
You can skip this section if the giver is someone you see on a very regular/ daily basis or if it doesn't feel appropriate. 

*Next comes the thank yous. I normally start this paragraph with a simple thank you very much for the… If you get stuck as to what more to say, then here’s what I do:

* If you got money or a handmade gift, skip to the next tips.
Is the gift particularly thoughtful and suited to you? If so, say so. Talk about how useful/ brilliant/ fun the gift is. If you got a book, say how it looks really good, or that you love this author, that you can’t wait to read it. The same can be applied to films, games or music (you love this genre, you can’t wait to watch/ play/ listen). If you like the gift so much that you already started to read/ watch or play it, then say so and how good it is.
If you got clothes, say how good the fit is, how the style is just so you, how you’ve been wearing it non stop.
Whatever you got, praise it, let the giver know how well suited it is to you and how you’ve been using (or will use) the gift.
If your gift wasn’t all that great or you really can’t think of anything to say about it, then keep it simple, fill the note up with news and extend the first section. Let the thank you be a simple “thank you for the….!”

* Hand-made gifts should be especially appreciated because the giver has spent time and thought on your gift, as well as money. Compliment the item, pointing out things about it you like in particular. Even if you don’t like the gift, it’s polite to find something about it that you can compliment. It’s a good idea to briefly go into your experiences with the gift. Eg: I got a handmade apron this Christmas (which I definitely did like!) and after saying how much I liked the design and fabric, I said that I’ve been wearing it each time I cook, trying to avoid splashing it too much because it’s so lovely.

* For those of you who got money or a gift voucher: let the giver know how you intend to spend it (or what kind of book/ music/ John Lewis product/ gardening equipment you’ll get). If you haven’t thought about what you’ll spend the money on, now is the time to give it a good think. Before I got into the habit of writing detailed thank you notes, I’d bank my cheque, the money would be assimilated into my current account and I’d forget about it. So take a few minutes to think of something you really want. Then when you get that item it’s that bit more special and the giver can feel their money wasn’t wasted.
You can always put the money towards a more expensive item if you can’t think of something within the value of the gift.  

If you’ve left it a while since receiving the gift and have since spent the money, then you can let the giver know what you bought and how great it is.

* Finish the note off with something like have a good new year or I hope to see you soon. If you’ve got a date set when you’ll see them next, mention it. If the giver is someone you see on a daily or very regular basis, skip this and just repeat a quick very many thanks!

And you’re done! Phew! It’s worth putting some effort into; your loved ones have spent time and money on you, let them know how amazing they are.

This year I bought my thank you notes from Meticulous Ink, a fine stationary company in Bath. I went for a lovely chicken design, letterpressed on 410gsm cotton card. The envelopes are lined with tissue paper for that added feeling of quality. You want the recipient of your note to feel like the amazing special person they are, so it’s only right that you splash out and get the best quality stationary for them.
You can buy Meticulous Ink note cards via their etsy store, or give them a tinkle on the telephone 01225 333004.

Alternatively, make your own cards! 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

(Almost) All the Books I Read in 2011

Okay, so I stole this post idea from Fucking Big Thoughts, a blog that is a lot better than this one, and also Andrew Worthington is a bigger reader than I am because he has about 70 books on his list and I have 38. He is also a better writer*, and if I put two and two together I might learn something about how to become a better writer.

A lot of my books are children’s books, but then I tend to write YA fiction, so there. 

I always grade the books I’m reviewing in the same way that my work was marked when I was at Uni – out of 100, but really out of 80. Any book that gets a 70 or more gets a first; that means it’s really good. It is actually impossible to get 100. Should a book ever get 100, everyone would have to stop writing because heavenly perfection would have been reached and the apocalypse would be upon us. Maybe I’ll read something worth 100 in the latter part of this year, maybe that’s what the end of the Mayan calendar is all about.

* Judged purely on the quantity of stories published and the quality of the publications in which the work appears.

Escape – Oldham                                                             42
Reaver’s Ransom – Diamand                                         65
Just In Case – Rosoff                                                       56
How I Live Now – Rosoff                                                  75
Breathing Under Water – Green                                     50
The Green Book – Patton Walsh                                    51
State of the Art – Banks                                                   68
The Drowned World – JG Ballard                                   71
Farewell my Lovely – Chandler                                       80
What I Was – Rosoff                                                         72
Bride’s Farewell – Rosoff                                                65
Roundabout – Lassiter                                                    41
A Song For Nero – Holt                                                   49
The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov                          85
The Curious Incident of...  – Hadon                                46
Will Grayson, Will Grayson – Green & Levithan           70
Star – Singleton                                                               63
Skaz, Skinny B and Me – Singleton                              50
A Bear Called Paddington – Bond                                69
Expedition to Earth – Clarke                                          69
Angel Kiss – Cassidy                                                      41
A visit from the Goon Squad – Egan                             76
Here Lies Arthur – Reeve                                               70
Anybody Out There – Keyes                                          15
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace... – Mishima              83
Leaving the World – Kennedy                                       08
The Temple of the Golden Pavi... – Mishima               90
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detetecti...- Adams                    45
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Yates                             85
While Mortals Sleep – Vonnegut                                  65
The Graveyard Book – Gaiman                                    70
The High Window – Chandler                                       82
Revolutionary Road – Yates                                          85                          
Exodus – Bertagna                                                         66
Aurora – Bertagna                                                          61
Zenith – Bertagna                                                           57
Wild Abandon – Dunthorne                                           58
The Age of Arthur; A history... – Morris                        55

Well, this is a list of what I remember reading.
Plus I read a few more Dark Ages history books, but I can’t remember the titles. I read a lot of shorts as well, and re-read stuff like Instruction Manual For Swallowing (Marek. 83).

In conclusion, the best book I read in 2011 was The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Mishima rated a massive 90/100 - probably the most I've ever awarded a book before. 
The worst book I read in 2011 was Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy who rated 8/100. I was forced to read this when I joined a local book group. It was a horrible experience. Ordinarily I would've stopped reading it before reaching chapter 2. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Short Stories by Etgar Keret and Robert Shearman

I got books for Christmas, mostly things that Adam Marek recommended during the reading he gave in Bridport in November. So far I’ve read Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman, Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God, I’m nearly finished The Girl on the Fridge by the same author, and I’ve read Apples by Richard Milward (this one wasn’t a Marek recommendation). What lead me to put Milward on my list was seeing this video of him doing a reading of his latest book. I liked that he transformed his head into a block of flats before doing the reading.

Both Shearman and Keret are amazing writers. I think Shearman is the better of the two; his stories are subtle and pack a lot more punch because I know there’s a lot going on in them.

Many of Keret’s stories are amazing. I think the stories in The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God are generally stronger than those in The Girl on the Fridge. I love Good Intentions, wherein a pro-assassin is hired to kill off the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, “the only good man I’d ever known”, a man who saved the assassin from orphanage beatings in his youth. He can’t do it, despite his 100% success rate in previous jobs. The ending is particularly strong, but I won’t go into it here. Keret’s endings tend to be very open. I think his stories demonstrate how it’s fine to leave everything hanging and unsaid, stories don’t always need a neat bow to round everything off.  

What I really, really like about Keret’s style is that his writing is so minimalist and bare, yet so vivid. The last story in The Bus Driver.. is Kneller’s Happy Campers. This was adapted into a film called Wristcutters, a Love Story. (See trailer below) The story is by far the longest in the book and is divided into twenty-six chapters, each about 300-600 words (his usual story length). The entire thing is forty pages. Any other writer would need five times that to tell this story – it’s enough to fill a feature length film. I think Keret is what I’d call a Conceptual Writer, by which I mean his stories are not really driven by character, plot or beautiful language, they are driven by an idea. The beauty of his prose is in its concise nature. Less is more, and there certainly is less in Keret’s work.

Keret manages to make stories out of anything and everything. Sometimes I’m not sure he succeeds. Perhaps I’ve just missed the point, but I’ve tried hard to delve deeper into some of the weaker ones, and still haven’t managed to figure it out. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his stories, I like them for being little vignettes. I think what I’m trying to say is that I feel I could write a (weaker) Keret story without breaking into too much sweat, but Shearman is totally beyond me.

Shearman’s work is so multi-faceted. The collection I read were all love stories, yet not a single one could be described as clich├ęd or soppy. Most of them left me with a raw sadness (in a good way). They are simultaneously uplifting and crushing. In the story Be of Good Cheer, Gillian is allergic to other people’s happiness. “I’d take her to the cinema, making sure that the film was suitably depressing first. But it wasn’t enough to see films about depressing subjects, about heroin addicts or holocaust victims. Good films, no matter how dour, were still curiously uplifting, sent a ripple of unity around the audience that quite made Gillian gnash her teeth in distress.” I think some of Shearman’s stories are like that; though none of them could be described as dour, they’re all too light-hearted in their tone for that.

As for Milward’s Apples, it doesn’t really belong in this discussion because it’s from a different genre. Apples is well written, but I couldn’t connect to the characters, they were all too far from me and my life. I might talk about this in greater depth sometime soon because it did interest me in regards to teen fiction and reluctant readers. More on that later.

More on these authors:

and here with a story I read a while ago, before I knew who Keret was:

Shearman is best known for writing the Doctor Who episode that re-introduced the Daleks. Here’s a clip from that episode: