‘The Seafarer’: An Anglo-Saxon Poem

I really enjoy the story of Beowulf. I read it with my Year 9 students in English, and we explore the ways in which the poetry and storytelling are similar or different to the ways in which things are done now. 

That’s why I was excited to learn of the existence of The Seafarer, another AngloSaxon poem of similar vintage, which was almost lost to history for all time.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

It, too, is written in Old English, and uses similar devices of imagery and poetic narrative to those found in Beowulf, such as kennings and alliteration. This poem, though, reads more like a dramatic monologue than an epic heroic adventure, and is far more religious and deeply spiritual than the secular, wildly fantastic and, at times, quite superstitious story of Beowulf. 

What treasures these stories and poems are – snippets of the past that have survived the centuries despite the best efforts of warring tribes and religious authorities alike to destroy everything that stood between them and the power they sought over Britain and her people. 

You can read a translation of the poem in today’s English at The Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry Project website

You can read Dr Oliver Tearle’s thoughts on the poems at the Interesting Literature blog. It is to this blog that I owe my thanks for drawing my attention to the poem. 

The 2019 Golden Squirrel Awards

Book Squirrel has announced the winners of the 2019 Golden Squirrel indie Book Awards

Just to make it clear, this is not a contest that people can vote on. This is an entirely subjective and preference-driven selection process. Book Squirrel knows what he likes, and that’s what he reads. When he reads, he always leaves a review. And on the Book Squirrel blog, he awards gold, silver or bronze acorns instead of a star rating system. 

At the end of the year, he chooses the best of the books he has read and reviewed, and gives some nice shiny awards to the wonderful authors who entertained and enlightened him in the past twelve months. 

This year, gold and silver awards were given to books in 20 genres, across a variety of age ranges, interests and styles. 

While Book Squirrel is fully committed to being as fair and impartial as a squirrel can be, so you can be sure that the winners of Golden Squirrel Awards are excellent reads, and worthy of recognition. 

Check out the winners here!



Excellent Last Minute Gifts for Readers

Christmas Eve is one week away, and it’s an unavoidable deadline for buying gifts. If you’re stuck wondering what to buy for the book lover in your life this Christmas, here are some great suggestions. 

A voucher or gift card from their favourite bookstore. In this case, vouchers are not impersonal or thoughtless: the greatest joy for an avid reader is browsing a bookstore and choosing their next escape. 
If you wanted to add a personal touch, you could always wrap the voucher with a nice bookmark or some chocolate. 

Alternatively, you could create a voucher of your own, gifting them an expedition to the store where you accompany them and buy whatever book they choose.  This would definitely make it more personal, and give you an opportunity to spend some time together too. 

An assortment of their favourite reading snacks. Coffee, tea, nuts, chocolates and candy go very nicely together into a box or hamper with a note or card that says ‘For while you are reading!’ 

If they grind their own coffee at home, some freshly roasted coffee beans will always be a hit. 

A cosy blanket to snuggle in while reading. 

Reading time! Often, readers are kept from their books by the demands of life. A voucher that promises two or three uninterrupted hours of reading time while you mind their kids, walk their dog, cook dinner for their family or clean their house for them is a great way to show your love  and appreciation for them.  Keep in mind, though, that if you choose this option, you need to keep that promise or you will have a very sad reader on your hands!

A subscription to Audible. Busy people who love books will often greatly enjoy and appreciate being able to listen to great books while they do other things. They even get their first audiobook free! 
If they already have a subscription, you could supplement that by gifting them with extra credits. 

I hope you have found these gift suggestions helpful. Is it wrong to also hope that my own family and friends are reading them?

The Most Beautiful Reading Experiences

More than a year ago, I began my book review of Eric Tanafon’s fabulous historical paranormal fantasy novel ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ with this paragraph: “Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.” 

There is something incredibly magical about that moment when a writer’s words take my breath away. It doesn’t happened as often as one might like, but it has happened to me twice in the space of a week. 

Once was when reading Cortney Pearson’s steampunk mystery ’The Perilous In-Between’. The second was when reading Bridget Collins’ historical fantasy novel ’The Binding’. 

All three books are exquisitely written, full of incredible imagery, rich and imaginative world building, and powerful writing that make the reader’s emotions and mind soar. 

Proudly, two of those books are by independent authors, published without the support of big traditional publishing houses and the budgets that the other enjoys. But if you picked up all three, and read them, you’d be pushed to know which was which if you were using the quality of writing or production as your yardstick.  You’d only know by looking for a publisher’s imprint. 

It is true that there are some rubbish books produced by independent authors who don’t bother having their work edited, proofread or produced properly. It is also true that there are also some rubbish books published traditionally. I’ve picked up a few books in my time that have, in all honesty, made me wonder exactly how they got published at all. Other people may think they are wonderful — and they are welcome to them. 

And that is exactly my point. What makes a book ‘brilliant’ is highly subjective, and people will have many and varied reasons for the choices they make. Even so, the assumption that traditionally published books are of superior quality is becoming less and less valid as time goes on. 

It’s fair to say that independent publishing has come a very long way, and the industry has become quite proficient in setting and achieving very high standards. 

If you’re not reading Indie authors, you’re missing out on both discovering some incredible talent and reading some brilliant books. 

For great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Downtime!

Today was glorious.

A drive in the countryside was exactly what I needed to blow off the cobwebs and breathe some fresh air.

And now? I’m going to read for pleasure.
Decadent I know.

For more pictures of where I drove… click here.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 

There. 
Never. 
Was. 
A.
Freaking.
Balcony. 

In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “Star-cross’d Lovers”

Just like ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, this commonly misunderstood famous line comes ‘Romeo and Juliet’

I have witnessed so many people talking about Romeo and Juliet as “star-cross’d lovers” in the sense of their meeting and relationship being their destiny, and that the two were somehow fated to be together. 

This couldn’t be more wrong. 

The actual meaning of the term becomes clearer if one thinks of it in terms of the stars actually crossing them. 

Romeo and Juliet were never meant to be together. The fates were against them, right from the start, and it was never going to work out well. 

It’s important to remember that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy, not a comedy or romance. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main characters always die. There are no happy endings. That’s a convention of the genre, and it is pointless to expect anything else. 

Not only that, but Shakespeare gives us the spoilers right there in the prologue, the opening speech of the play, which is where the phrase comes from. They’re going to die, and as they are laid to rest, so too will be buried the feud between their families, which is what made their love forbidden in the first place. 

The prologue to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

If, as some believe they do, the stars were to control one’s fortunes in life, the last thing you’d wish for is to be “star-crossed” in any way. 

Well… That Ended Badly.

I read a book this week that I was really enjoying. It kept me hooked right to the end, and then came the death blow: a sudden, out-of-nowhere, poorly executed ending. Without warning, or even the slightest hint that it was coming, the story just stopped. 

I hate that. I hate it so much that I am deferring writing my review until I’ve got over my annoyance at it. The story was so good, and the characters so interesting, that I was completely absorbed in it. And then? Suddenly, POOF! It’s all over. 

I dislike cliffhanger endings to books at the best of times. 
This one was not even the best of times.
It wasn’t really a cliffhanger, either. It was more like the whole book got snatched out of my hands and thrown over the cliff, and might never be seen again. 

It was possibly the worst sudden ending to a story I’ve ever experienced. It made me think that maybe the author did not know how to properly end a story, even though they obviously knew how to write the rest of one. 

I fully understand why authors design those suspenseful endings – they want to keep readers guessing and anticipating what comes next so they’ll read the next book. 

Here’s the thing, though: if the book is good, I’m going to buy and read the next one anyway. If the writing or editing is poor, or the storyline is weak, a cliffhanger isn’t going to make me buy or read the next one. 

If there has to be a sudden ending, or a cliffhanger, there should at least be enough resolution in the final chapters to answer some of the questions raised in the book. By all means, leave questions unanswered. Just— not all of them. 

I do quite like suspense and anticipation.
I love the sensation of looking forward to the next book.
I do not enjoy an ending that leaves me wondering if the author’s computer crashed and the final chapter was irretrievably lost. 

I read a lot of books, and for me, a quality conclusion is as important as the opening paragraphs. You can win or lose readers right there, regardless of how good the rest of the book might be. 

My Kind Of Person.

Today my brother, sister-in-law and I took our elderly and increasingly frail Dad out for lunch. 

We went to one of our favourite local places: Lake Edge Cafe on the shore of Lake Purrumbete. The view is lovely in any weather, but it was nice and warm inside. 

While we were waiting for our lunch, another family group came in and took the table next to ours. It looked to be a man around my own age, three boys, and the boys’ grandparents. 

“Shall I tell you a bit about the menu?” the waiter asked. 

“Could you wait a bit, please?” the guy responded. “My wife will be in in a moment… she’s just finishing the final few pages of a book.” 

I smiled. Anyone who stays in the car to finish a book before lunch is my kind of person. 

In case you were wondering, I ordered the pumpkin, prosciutto, pine nut and cherry tomato fettuccine. It was amazing. 

The Power of Historical Fiction

I love a great historical fiction read, so when I discovered this article yesterday, I thought it well worth sharing.

I fully agree with the author’s comments about what distinguishes excellent historical fiction from the rest. There is no substitute for research and ensuring that a story is entirely consistent with the time, place and people involved.

In keeping with the encouragement to pick up a work of historical fiction, I’d like to recommend some that I have found to be excellent.

  • To Be A Queen by Annie Whitehead
  • Miriamne the Magdala by J.B. Richards
  • A Daffodil for Angie by Connie Lacey
  • Blood and Ink by DK Marley
  • The Artist by Lyra Shanti

I do hope you enjoy this excellent post by Steve Cochrane.

The Power of Historical Fiction

Encounters of Faith in Asia: Past, Present and Future

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I love to read. For the past 20 years plus, I’ve read on average 150 books a year. I even keep a list in my journal of all those books, so could prove it to you if you wanted! Books on history always figure prominently on that list, but not only non-fiction. I also love the genre of historical fiction. My latest one is titled Cutting for Stone by Indian-American writer Dr. Abraham Verghese.

This book has the elements of what I value in historical fiction. It is set in Ethiopia over a period of about forty years, dealing with issues of immigration from India and set in a hospital in the capital of Addis Ababa. The first element I value is what this book has in rich measure, a well researched context. Historical context must be accurate, or the book should rather be in the science fiction…

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