Hello. Welcome to my brilliant new (also convenient and fun) way to organise your life! Every Monday I will recommend six things that I think are good (a book, an album, a film, a television programme, a short story, and a something else) tell you about a bird you could go and have a look for that week (depending on where you live of course, UK and European readers may have considerably more luck than others) and then give you a writing prompt to spark your literary imagination for the week ahead.
Until people start sending me free books to review (and I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one) most of my recommendations will be books that are already out. But, because I have an Any Other Stories subscription, I got a copy of Phenotypes by Paulo Scott a few weeks ago, so I can tell you why I liked it a full twenty four hours before it is published. Pretty fancy, eh?Phenotypes made me reconsider how much information the writer needs to give the reader. The novel is set in places I don’t know, has characters far removed from my experience and deals with topics (race, family, class) that don’t translate directly from Brazil to Britain; but one of the things that makes the novel so great is that it doesn’t attempt to explain any of that. It just tells the story. And the voice of the narrator is so distinctive, and Scott’s style so alive, (and Daniel Hahn’s translation so good) that while the reader is thrown into the deep end they aren’t left to drown. It is one of those novels that you read first as a reader, totally absorbed by the plot, but then again, more slowly, to work out how the writer managed to give you so much information with so little.
The first week of January is a really good time to notice the albums that you should have put on your round-up of your favourite albums of the previous year but, for whatever reason, forgot to. Of all the 2021 albums I wronged last week, the one that most deserved to be on my list was Candlepower by Marina Allen. It manages to sound contemporary and a bit like a lost folk classic from the 1970s, and if you are a fan of Judee Sill or similar you should give it a listen.
I will make no apology for recommending a film that directly follows on from the end of a second season of a Netflix television series because, a) Hilda and the Mountain King is brilliant and, b) you should watch it and, c) if you haven’t watched the first two series of Hilda you are only punishing yourself.Hilda and the Mountain King has all the things that made the series great – exquisite use of colour, great characters, brilliant voice work, a world built up from a mixture of Scandinavian design, folklore, the modern world and the imagination of Luke Pearson – and it leans into the more melancholy episodes to create a narrative that is surprisingly sad for what is, technically, a children’s film.
A Television Programme
Yet again, the best thing on television over the Christmas period was the finals of the World’s Strongest Man. The (always a bit odd) habit of saving the final for New Year’s Day instead of broadcasting it live in the summer is increasingly looking an unwise idea – this year the name of the winner was announced by a commentator during one of the matches at Euro 2020 – but there is no getting away from just how good a television spectacle it is. The athlete’s are among the most professional and driven in the world but they are also just a bunch of really nice guys, in touch with their feelings, cheering each other on, supporting each other when things go wrong. Considering they regularly push themselves so hard that they end up bleeding from the nose, or blacking out, or bursting a blood vessel in their eye or something, it’s a surprisingly wholesome programme. It’s a bit like Bake Off, but instead of Victoria Sponges you have people pushing a twenty five tonne train. The whole series is available on My5.
A Short Story
Most weeks I will try to pick a story that I have read that is available for free on the internet but this week we have something of a short story emergency. There is a new Claire Dean story available.Middleton Sands is available at Nightjar Press and you should click that link and buy it immediately because Claire Dean is one of our greatest living writers and it is going to sell out soon. I don’t want to tell you much about the story, because I don’t want to spoil it, so… actually, no, I’m not going to say anything about it at all. Just buy it and read it.
I have been listening to Things Fell Apart on BBC Sounds. Over eight episodes, Jon Ronson looks at several important historical moments in what are nowadays called the culture wars. Some episodes will make you angry, some will make you sad, episode three (about when Tammy Faye Bakker interviewed Steve Pieters) will give you a brief glimpse into what the world might look like if people were nicer to each other on a more regular basis.
…you could just get out in the countryside and find some animals. The bird I’m recommending you have a search for this week is the Great Spotted Woodpecker which is common enough to be found without too much trouble but rare enough to feel a bit special when you do. Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to get them in your garden – they are very partial to a fat ball – but if you aren’t, a trip to a nature reserve with a feeding station might be somewhere to visit this weekend. I haven’t seen one yet this year (though I did hear a green woodpecker, which was nice) but if we all have a look we should find one between us.
Your writing prompt this week is: They hoped they wouldn’t have to hit it with a spoon.