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Archive for November, 2014

Book Review: “Being Miss” by Fran Hill – Brilliant Comic Account of One Day in the Life of a Schoolteacher

Being Miss” is a novella-length account written by Fran Hill. Since Fran is a member of my writers group and I’d seen several positive comments about “Being Miss” on Facebook and also read some of Fran’s very funny blog posts, I decided to download the Kindle version and move it to the top of my current reading list!

Being Miss by Fran Hill

Being Miss by Fran Hill

I found this account brilliantly and sometimes painfully funny. Fran addresses her subject with self-deprecating humour.  I feel this short book (112 pages) should be required reading for anyone on a B. Ed. course, so that they might have a true sense of the realities of life as a schoolteacher. Although I don’t believe, of course, that any teacher would genuinely encounter all these situations in one day, and it’s clear Fran has amalgamated probably several months’ worth of experiences in one intense, highly comical day, nevertheless this does give fascinating insights into the life of a schoolteacher. I have a sense that to succeed in this profession you have to be a master of mind-games and psychological tricks; for those unskilled in this, it must be unbelievably stressful!  I particularly loved Fran’s dialogues with her Scottish colleague in the staffroom, and some of the more picaresque tales in the book, including the moment when you as the reader think, “Oh no, she isn’t going to do what I think she’s going to do….” and then she does do it. Read the book to find out what that might be!

Her account of invigilation was particularly amusing; though I must admit, from my own personal experience as an occasional school invigilator, my favourite game has been to study in turn the faces, hairstyles, body-language, clothes and make-up of several students in the room, wondering about what their futures hold for them, and what mistakes they will make in their lives and whether any of them are destined to make the same mistakes that I’ve done. I have never deliberately set off down an aisle while another invigilator is heading up it in my direction, with the intention of sweeping a student’s exam paper and stationery off onto the floor. However, having read Fran’s anecdotes, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that she has actually done the things she describes! (Or maybe there is some use of poetic licence here).

I’d love to see this kind of comic observation within the structure of a well-plotted full-length novel.  I hope Fran will give us this with her next book.  She may even be able to borrow from and subtly adjust some of those wonderful Gothic ideas presented by her brilliant pupils in their essays for her…

As this review might suggest, I thoroughly recommend Fran’s book to you!

 

Book Review: “Earthed” published by Mystic Christ Press: Bridging the Gap Between Christianity and Paganism

This fascinating book came into my hands because I belong to a Facebook group called Mystic Christ and heard about the publication of this collection of essays by authors with both Christian affiliation and a desire to express spirituality through nature connection.

Earthed - Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection

Earthed – Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection

This sounded like a book after my own heart. For many years I was greatly drawn to a spirituality very close to pantheism/nature mysticism; and one of my chief objections then to the Christian faith was what I saw as its “black and white” stance and its refusal to recognise the validity of this kind of spirituality. I remember years ago a certain Tory politician being asked if he was religious or a churchgoer, to which he replied, “No, I don’t go to church, I feel much closer to God walking in the Yorkshire Dales”.

In the view of the authors of “Earthed” this is a valid spiritual position to take.

The book, edited by Bruce Stanley and Steve Holllinghurst, brings together the views and experiences of several authors who have a range of different approaches and outlooks but all believe that Christianity’s relationship with nature matters.

The earlier essays provide an overview and then move on to more detailed accounts of personal experiences. I must admit I found some of these read a little like vicars seeking to justify to their evangelical colleagues why they are moved by pagan religious rituals in nature.

However,  I was pleased to see a chapter by Annie Heppenstall, “Do I Not Fill Heaven and Earth?” Annie led the Celtic Christian celebrations I attended at Morton Bagot church in Warwickshire. There is also a very good article by Anne Hollinghurst about St Francis of Assisi.  “A creation-centred spirituality,” she writes, “should also include St Francis’ rule of compassion for the poor, a rejection of the pursuit of wealth, status or reputation in favour of simplicity and poverty of spirit.”

To me there’s no problem in the idea of worshipping God in and through nature.This has always been a spirituality very close to my heart. But I do acknowledge that some people find the natural world wild, disorderly and threatening.

I enjoyed the chapter about The Green Man by Simon Cross, in which he draws a thread connecting the story of the Garden of Eden with the Legend of the Holy Rood, the Frankenstein story, North American Indian spirituality and its understanding of the Great Spirit, through the 1800’s resurgence of interest in occultism and onto fear of little green men from Mars, space research and exploration and the current fascination with wilderness survival skills (as demonstrated in various TV programmes).

The theme of this book was highlighted from a different source on Sun 16 November 2014: I was watching a BBC TV programme presented by Sue Perkins from a remote rural community in Cambodia, where she was spending time with people who have “a relationship with the natural world that many of us crave.”

Another outstanding chapter for me in this book is “Oceanic God” in which author Nick Thorpe writes about things he has learned from the power of the sea and from the people who earn their living by chancing their lives upon the sea.

“After my sea pilgrimage,” he says, “I resolved to allow myself a broader, more open-handed belief; less fretful about the details of doctrine, more willing to let complex realities clash, and mysteries remain.”

There is also a lovely piece by Paul Cudby on “Friendships Across the Divide: A Theology of Encounter” which I strongly identified with. I have myself felt the spiritual sense of nature connection which he describes, on several occasions throughout my life. The experiences he describes follow the principle that whatever you practice regularly becomes almost intuitive and then new possibilities spring up.

In conclusion I’d say that the premise of this book is correct: that in western forms of Christian worship many habitually cut themselves off from this kind of nature connection; and this is a totally unnecessary source of alienation from those who find themselves naturally drawn to pagan and mystical spirituality.Instead, we end up creating a division between those whose spiritual practices might otherwise find many points of similarity.

If any of this rings a bell with you, I highly recommend this book.

Jeffrey Archer at Warwick School: Entertainer, Story-Teller and Raconteur

I went to see Jeffrey Archer speak at Warwick School on Friday night. His subject was: How To Write a Bestseller.

I last heard Jeffrey address an audience probably about 23 years ago, this time at Sevenoaks School; and he said several of the same things (one of which was “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.”

My thoughts at the time were dominated by the fact that he reminded me of Toad of Toad Hall. And this time, back again in the same role, posturing about the stage, Jeffrey did not disappoint.  Jeffrey’s talks are entertaining. What you cannot claim is that they deconstruct “how to write a bestseller”.

As his wife Mary is quoted as saying several years ago, “Jeffrey has a gift for the inaccurate precis.”

However, Jeffrey’s talk was enjoyable, and I’m glad to have been in the audience for an evening which he was able to fit in during a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, to see Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

I believe, too, that difficult as it may be to pin down, his storytelling secret lies in a grasp of structure. He demonstrated this when he set us a challenge to write a story in 100 words, which he himself had done for The Reader’s Digest. And this provides a helpful guide to his skill; a natural flair for a beginning, a middle and an end; and a gift for defeating his audience’s expectations.

 

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