I’ve achieved some rather major literary goals this year, and last night I celebrated with two lovely women.


There’s me in the middle. (Those holes in my top are a design feature, not a result of drunken undressing in the dark. I wish.) On the right is Joanna, and to the left is Sara: the two wonderful creators and writers of my favourite new blog site this year, joannaandsarareadbooks. They read books then chat about them and record their conversations. It’s clever, thought-provoking and frequently hilarious, and if you haven’t visited already you must do so (as soon as you finish reading this).

The three of us have all completed the same proofreading and editing course (at various times), so we joked about proofing the menu as we waited for our food to arrive. Then we took part in a little tradition that I have enjoyed every year with my book club. We choose a book off our own shelf and give it to someone else in the group, who then reads it and (eventually) gives it back. It requires careful thought as you try to match a book with a person.

Unfortunately I had not explained the concept clearly enough – I think I had dashed off a quick email a few weeks previously in the middle of ten thousand other emails – so last night we each came to the table with our own take on the tradition, which was actually rather fun.

I had scooped up three or four books on the way out the door, intending to summarise them then let Sara and Joanna choose the one that interested them the most. Sara had carefully wrapped a book for me and Joanna and said they were ours to keep forever. Joanna had already bought one Secret Santa gift before getting the email about the books, so gave the gift to Sara (it was lovely) and a book to me, to keep.

The book Sara gave to me:

44 Irish Short Stories, edited by Devin A. Garrity

I can’t wait to dip into this. The Irish literary tradition is rich – just casting my eye down the list of authors is like visiting an International Writing Hall of Fame—and given that I was born in Northern Ireland, I hope that some of that literary brilliance has rubbed off on me.

The book Joanna gave to me:

A Void, by Georges Perec

This fascinating book is translated from the original French La Disparition (literally, “The Disappearance”), a 300-page French lipogrammatic novel* written in 1969—wait for it—entirely without using the letter “e”. Quelle folie! Of course, as soon as I read the cover I started flicking determinedly through the pages, desperate to be the clever reader to find the first “e”. No luck so far. I’m intrigued, and will tackle this one when my brain doesn’t mind working a bit. Perhaps not these summer holidays, then.

*A lipogram is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting in writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided—usually a common vowel, and frequently “e”, the most common letter in the English language. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The book(s) I gave to Sara:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett  (Joanna had already read them both).

I read the first, a gothic suspense novel, with our book club some time ago. I remember enjoying it; anything that includes an old house full of secrets, a mystery to solve, stories to tell and possible death and mayhem is right up my alley.

I haven’t read the second one—I picked it up not long ago at a second-hand book sale—but I love Ann Patchett (Bel Canto is one of my favourite novels) and I wanted to share some of her brilliance with Sara.

Amazon describes it as “a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest…an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.”

Whew. Sara’s in for an exhilarating read.

The book I gave to Joanna:

The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read in my life, particularly now that I am a parent (and in a long-term relationship). I re-read it every now and then, and I still laugh out loud. It’s not high-brow or earnest or intellectually challenging or incredibly well-written—just bloody hilarious. That’ll do.

I mentioned at the start of this post that I had achieved some pretty big goals this year. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. I walked the Milford Track – New Zealand’s most famous Great Walk – then wrote about it.
  2. I launched my own proofreading, editing and writing business.
  3. I finished an early draft of my first novel and LAST NIGHT HANDED IT OVER TO JOANNA TO READ AND CRITIQUE (kindly, with sensitivity. Please.) That was a huge, scary step for me.
  4. Not strictly literary, but worth mentioning – I was cast in The Phantom of the Opera, playing at Auckland’s Civic Theatre in February/March 2016. I mention it because after this post you may not hear anything from me until mid-March. I’ll be too busy singing discordant harmonies, wearing a glittery mask, dancing on a table in a tight corset (that’s a spoiler), and secretly wishing I was playing the role of Christine, who gets to kiss the Phantom. (Oh, come on. Would you choose Raoul?)

I am going to finish my blogging year by acknowledging my patient, calm and very clever partner, my gorgeous daughter, and my precious friends, two of whom I dined with last night. After all the novels are written, the books read, and the typo-ridden menus slashed to pieces, it is the people you love, and who love you, that make a year worthwhile.

(Joanna and Sara – not sure about the grammar of that last line. What do you think?)

Happy Christmas.


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