Blog Journal #6 November

Blog Journal #6 November

Shorter days

Lockdown days of writing and reading

16th November 2020

It is early in the morning and it is still dark and I am at my desk writing this month’s blog journal and we are deep into autumn and also our second lockdown, outside the wind has been howling and blowing fallen leaves around like confetti, now there is rain hammering against the window.

The days are now much shorter and I find these darker mornings best to write with a steaming mug of tea or coffee on my desk. This is the time of year when life should be slowing beginning to slow down, but this is a year unlike any we have known. With the darker evenings I like nothing better than to curl up with a book. These lockdown days have been a real struggle for everyone and my goes out to everyone who is struggling. Books and reading have played such an important role in my life and I have read so many books this year, but like many there have been times when I struggled to focus on reading when news has been so bleak. Writing and listening to audiobooks and podcasts have then taken over. Luckily I have had a number of writing projects to focus on in recent months that has kept me busy and focussed.

The little walks each morning along the canal and some mornings I am lucky to catch a glimpse of a Kingfisher, these little nuggets have been so important and have really helped through the difficult months this year. Nature as they say is such a great cure I really enjoyed the recent first frosty mornings and seeing fallen leaves covered in frost and walking on frost covered grass glistening in the early morning light as if the land has been covered in glitter during the night.

A Poem for November.

The Shepherd’s Calendar: November

By John Clare

The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, ’tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.
For days the shepherds in the fields may be,
Nor mark a patch of sky – blindfold they trace,
The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,
Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see …

Many of you may recall I ran The Lost Words campaign for Primary Schools in Somerset, and I enjoyed working with some of the schools. The pandemic has caused many children in primary schools across the country have fallen behind with reading with as many as 1 in 4 children having reading difficulties and CORVID-19 will have made this worse. I have been accepted onto the Schoolreaders programme and in the next few months I will be assigned to a primary school in Somerset to assist with one-to-one reading support with children who are having problems with reading.

When I was in primary school my reading suffered while I was in hospital having an operation on my eye and while I had both eyes covered for weeks it was my teacher who came to the hospital each day to read and to encourage me. Something I have never forgotten. When I look at everything I have done connected to books especially over the last six years, it was that support at such a vital time that enabled me to enjoy books and reading and so I hope I can help in some small way with children who are having reading difficulties in the months ahead.

Despite everything this year has gone by so quickly and it is hard to imagine my next blog journal will be for December as we begin Christmas and the last journal of this strange and most difficult of years.

Until then keep safe and happy reading.

Keep safe and happy reading.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

Blog Journal #5

Blog Journal #5


Loss, grief and autumn leaves

27th October 2020

This year has really tested all of us, but on a personal level this has been one of the most difficult of years, stepping away from a job, then the lockdown happened, going through months of therapy all this hit hard. But recently we suffered a loss in the family which has deeply affected everyone. Anyone who knew or met Andy will testify to what a wonderful man with a huge heart he really was. A light has gone out in our life. A huge character that would fill a room with laughter. All is now silent.

Autumn is one of my most favourite times of the year, watching the leaves turn from their late summer greens into those warm autumn reds, russets and golds has been special this year. Maybe it is because we have taken the time to stop and look at the colours.

Is it my imagination or have the colours this autumn been more spectacular than recent years? Walking through a wood and watching the falling leaves makes you realise how the seasons move so quickly when you wish just for a fleeting moment that time would standstill just for a while longer to appreciate the spectacle. As autumn progresses and the winds increase soon the trees will be stripped bare of all their leaves, but those fallen leaves can have a real purpose in giving a home to wildlife through the winter. Those quiet and still autumn days with not a breath of wind are the best, when you see wood smoke rising straight and true. These are the days I love the most.

With Halloween just days away we have our own spooky reads that we recall but two of my favourite ‘creepy’ novels are Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Classics in their own right. There are Pumpkins on sale so it must be time to make Spicy Pumpkin soup and snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds.

A poem for autumn:

Autumn Fires, by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires

See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over

And all the summer flowers,

The red fire blazes,

The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!”

The clocks have now gone back and the days are getting shorter and there is the sound of the first fireworks going off as soon as darkness falls. We spend more time indoors and there is nothing better than curling up with a good book as you listen to the wind howling and the rain against the window. Autumn is a time when publishers release the big books in time for the pre-Christmas push for sales and never before has your local bookshop needed all our support. Please if you can, do pop in or visit them online. Believe me there are some fantastic books out now just waiting to be snapped up.

Which reminds me, I have not run a book prize draw for some months and so I will be running a draw in the very near future and maybe there could be an added treat with the book.

 We are still living through some very difficult and worrying times and none of us know what the months ahead will bring, but we will help each other through these troubled times but until next time, Keep Safe and happy reading.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

Independent Publishers

Independent Book Publishers

A love letter to indies

Blog Journal: #4

10th September 2020

It is mid-morning and the warm September sunshine is pouring through the window onto my writing desk and it is distracting me. It must be time to pick Blackberries and Cobnuts.

Earlier this week I announced on Twitter that I was going to be running regular feature on my blog about UK independent publishers. I was amazed at the response received, I now have a long list of independent publishers to showcase over the weeks and months to come.

There are so many challenges that indie publishers face and these challenges like many other publishers have been exacerbated due to the Coronavirus pandemic, yet their passion and enthusiasm for publishing knows no boundaries as they find new writing talent and supporting their writers. Only in recent days Little Toller based in Dorset and who published Dara McAnulty’s first book The Diary of a Young Naturalist went on to win the prestigious Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing, the youngest ever winner at just 16-years-old and has now also been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize.

But unless we support independent publishers many may not survive, it is a tough business to be in especially in these difficult times. Many challenges are faced on a daily basis from selling books to digital piracy, it is a tough business to be in. I was touched by the messages and emails by many of the small publishers who wanted to get on board and be featured. It has been nearly six years since I started writing my book reviews and interviews and recently celebrated my 500th blog post and looking back to when I first started to that dark November afternoon it was a few of the small indie publishers who got on board and sent me books and encouraged me. I guess this is me giving something back!

During the last six years I have been impressed beyond words at the quality of writing being published by the indies such as Orenda Books, Bluemoose Books, Little Toller and urbane Books just to name four. Whether is it fiction or non-fiction, whether you like reading crime or contemporary fiction or you enjoy reading history there is something out there for every reader.

We are so fortunate in this country in that we have so many passionate people in publishing, no matter what part of the UK, they are rich and diverse and all with their own unique style and brand. Imagine a time if we lost our independent publishing industry?

Starting on my blog from next week I will showcase an indie publisher. This will be a journey across our country, join me as we discover the many authors and their books and those behind the scenes of each of the publishers.

If you are an indie publisher and would like to be showcased, contact me to get your name added to the list.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

The Joy of Bookshops

The Joy of Bookshops

Step inside a bookshop and a world of literary delights awaits

Blog Journal: #3

4th August 2020

When was the last time you visited a bookshop? That may seem like a strange question to ask but so much of our lives have changed over recent months and since bookshops have reopened many are still very quiet like many high street outlets. But there is something very special about visiting a bookshop.

During these strange days of social distancing and the wearing face coverings there is still a joy to be had in going to visit a bookshop. May be you are looking for that big summer read you have promised yourself or one of the books on the literary prize you are following. September is going to be a big month for book releases as publishers held off book launches during the lockdown. The key date is September 3rd and 250 hardback books will be launched on that day. Booksellers across the country will be busy that week and it will be a critical time for all bookshops including the indie bookshops who have suffered during the lockdown.

Since the high street started to reopen I have visited my local bookshops a number of times and the staff have done an incredible job in making sure that both staff and customers feel safe and making the bookshops welcoming and I have felt more at ease in a bookshop than the local supermarket. May be it is the book hunter gatherer in me that I want to visit bookshops and the bookish delights that await instore and socially distant book chats with the staff.

As I write and review books on my blog and through magazines, I tend to hear the ‘thud’ on the doormat as the postman delivers book packages from publishers. In the years that I have been reviewing books I still feel real gratitude that publishers and authors have trusted me with proofs ahead of publication but saying that you just cannot better walking into your local bookshop.

Then of course there are the bookshops that also have their own instore coffee shops and for me this is heaven, books and coffee and not forgetting the cake of course. Since the lockdown the one joy that I have missed is the visiting author and the interview. Will we ever get back to the pre-Corvid19 days of writers being interviewed in front of a packed audience in a bookshop. We can only hope.

Sales of books during the lockdown really held up as people discovered the joy of books, but the dreaded spectre of Amazon is always never far away and they threaten the existence of our local independent bookshops across the country. Footfall in independent bookshops dropped off, our indie bookshops are part of the local community and it is vital they survive. Many are still taking orders online and will help track down that hard to find book for you.

Then of course there is the antiquarian bookshops, as you walk in there is that aroma of the old books, I have missed some of my favourites on the Charing Cross Road which was of course famous for Marks & Co who sold rare and second hand books at number 84 Charing Cross Road. You know the book by Helene Hanff which also inspired the film with Anthony Hopkins. Sadly, they are long gone but there are still second hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road.

Bookshops are a delight to visit and spending time just browsing the bookshelves, maybe it is just me but I find it really relaxing spending time looking for that book I really want to read that is where you will find me. But wearing a face covering.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review