My Top Ten Books of 2018: Grown-ups

am an owl, am an owl... Top Ten Books 2018

It’s getting to that time again when we like to think back over what we’ve done in the past year. Or, in the case of us bibliophiles, what we’ve read. So, once again here’s my Top Ten Books for Grown-ups that I’ve read in 2018, each a perfect gift for the Yuletide season!

The Top Ten for Children and Young Adults will be along shortly…

Troubles, J.G. Farrell

Troubles is probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year. It’s about a traumatised British soldier (‘The Major’) who goes to Ireland to meet his apparent fiance, and ends up staying in her father’s hotel for… well, for a very long time. Like the fantastic Siege of Krishnapur, the real subject of Troubles is the decline of the British Empire. But J.G. Farrell’s supreme success is rendering this through exquisite detail and through his wonderful, vivid, and occasionally comic, characters.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon

Another historical novel, this is an absorbing tale of two men who create a Comic empire in war-time New York. One of them is a Jewish migrant, striving to be a real-life hero to save members of his family left behind in Nazi Germany.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

An astonishing book, giving an overview of the major phases of our evolution. It’s often grim in its rendering of our collective fictions, but it’s also balanced with glimmers of hope, such as the relative peacefulness of recent times, improvements in medicine, and reductions in global poverty. Most unnerving is the ending, which touches on the huge pressures we face to undertake more bioengineering, and where that might lead. Nonfiction such as a Moment on the Earth and fiction such as Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, address some of these issues. But this book wakes you up to the prospect that, in the long view, our turbulent history might just be a staging post in the evolution of intelligent design.

Inside the Wave, Helen Dunmore

The final book of poetry by the talented and versatile Helen Dunmore. I read several of her dark and atmospheric novels when I was younger, including Zennor in Darkness and A Spell of Winter. She also wrote some mermaid-inspired Young Adult novels which I’ve yet to read. But she stands out as a poet. She wrote Inside the Wave when she was terminally ill, and the writing has a clear, transcendent beauty.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

A brilliant, creepy book that really gets inside the mind and disturbing habits of its teenage narrator – who is definitively unreliable.

The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler

It’s taken me a long time to read this classic title. I love A.M. Homes, and Anne Tyler writes in a similar vein. Both give us stories of Americans whose lives have been fractured by trauma but who retain – or recover – a sense of perspective and transcendence. And who still have a surprising decision or two in them.

The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst

I struggled at first to buy into this segmented novel that revisits a wealthy British family throughout the last century. But as it went on I grew to love the way it built a textured picture of the ebb and flow of legacy – particularly that of one man, a war poet. I occasionally find myself slowing down as novels progress, getting a little less interested in the set up and characters. But in The Stranger’s Child, I found my appetite and interest increasing all the time.

Dark Entries, Rober Aickman

The second horror entry in my top ten. These morbid, unresolved tales by Robert Aickman are as usual masterfully told. A poet of the tomb, he plants a dark seed in your mind and let’s you grow it however you will. Check out my review of The Wine-Dark Sea here.

Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates

I’d been meaning to read some Joyce Carol Oates for a long time. I wasn’t disappointed with this, a dark and gripping tale of a claustrophobic friendship between a charismatic artist and a dowdy lecturer.

Ten Poems about Birds: Top Ten Books 2018

Ten Poems about Birds, intro Jenni Murray

A beautifully produced present given to me by my wife on our tenth wedding anniversary. Only when I put together my first poetry book, Up in the Air, did I realise quite how obsessed I am by birds and flight. So this was a truly magical present. The poems are wondrous and fragile, perfect little songs. I especially liked Skylark, which I had never read before, and Owl, which I had, but had forgotten.

Am an owl, am an owl…

Want to know more about what I’ve been reading? Check out my favourite books in 2017 and 2016!

Three Reasons to Love Wordsworth

Wordsworth thinking

I’ve been really pleased by the reception of my first poetry book, Up in the Air, which reached the top ten in Amazon’s ‘Inspirational Poetry’ bestsellers category.

I wrote a post about how I started writing poems here. I mentioned it was climbing Scottish mountains and reading William Wordsworth that kickstarted my love for poetry. But citing Wordsworth as an inspiration is hardly hip these days. So I thought I’d tell you why I like him. Then, hopefully, you will too.

There are three reasons I love Wordsworth:

#1 His Idealism

As a young man in the 1790s, Wordsworth travelled on the continent and was excited by the fresh ideals of the politics he discovered. He believed passionately in the French Revolution, that there would be a new dawn of equality and liberty for all humankind. Unfortunately it was followed by the Reign of Terror and Wordsworth ultimately retreated, disillusioned, to his private sanctuary in the Lake District. I’ve got a feeling quite a few of us would like to do that these days.

#2 His Poetry

Obviously. Wordsworth created some of the most inspired and memorable lines in the English language. Look at these for instance:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

That best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

Come forth into the light of things,
Let nature be your teacher.

With an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

#3 Above all, his love of, respect for, and insight into Nature

As one of the greatest Romantic poets, Wordsworth described the inner life and value of Nature like no other:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear, – both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

He understood the mysterious interplay that our thoughts, our minds, have with Nature. Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey is my favourite poem, and I think the lines about what the eye and ear ‘half create, and what percieve’ is a revelation.

I often re-read Wordsworth’s poems, when I arrive in the mountains, or see a new, inspiring landscape. We can never be sure about the inner life of Nature, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower as Dylan Thomas called it, and what our part in it is. But many of us believe that there is something really there beyond dim, blind, mechanics. And we see that, in a semi-objective, semi-imaginative way, we are not only created by it, but have a mysterious role in creating the world ourselves.

UP IN THE AIR poetry book out now!

Up in the Air poetry book

Up in the Air poetry book interior

My new poetry book, Up in the Air, is out now!

An Amazon bestselling collection, Up in the Air brings together 50 poems that I’ve written over the last 25 years, some published, others new. If you want to read how I came to write poetry in the first place, there’s a post about it here.

I hope you’ll consider buying and reading it. I would be over the moon if you could also write a short review for Amazon (one line will do!). And remember, nothing makes a better Christmas present than some poetry…

Here’s the link, available all over the world as a paperback and Kindle version thanks to the wonders of Amazon:

Happy reading!

 

 

Up in the Air – new poetry book out soon!

Up in the Air poetry book cover

My new poetry book, Up in the Air, will be out later this month. I am sooo excited!

This book brings together 50 poems I’ve written over the past 25 years. I got into poetry properly in my twenties when studying an MSc in Environmental Management at Stirling University in Scotland.

I love the big outdoors, and it wasn’t long before I began climbing some of the legendary Scottish mountains. Ben Lomond was the first, done in thick snow and cloud after a late night out on the tiles. It was a struggle, but I remember an amazing moment near the summit when the fog lifted and there was half of Loch Lomond on dazzling display. I’d studied Wordsworth before – but it was in the Highlands that I really became inspired by his poetry:

‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

From there, it was a short step to writing my own poems. My first publication was in a regional anthology. It was really a clever piece of vanity publishing – everyone’s family and friends bought copies – but it boosted my confidence as a writer. Next, I had two poems accepted by a much more high profile magazine, Orbis International. One (Old Man) was inspired by a walk on the Old Man of Coniston, a mountain in the English Lake District.

After that, I began to write poems on nature, love, and all the other things that inspired me.  Many got accepted in literary magazines, such as Poetry Ireland, The Rialto and The New Welsh Review. I did readings in places such as The Troubadour in Old Compton Street, London (in the cellar where Bob Dylan once performed!)

I always thought one day I would get them published – but along came work and other things. I stopped writing for a while, and when I came back to it I was bursting with ideas for my adventure series, The Secret of the Tirthas. Whilst I continued to write the odd poem, I focused on that for the next decade.

When I finished The Secret of the Tirthas this summer, I realised it was the ideal moment to get the poetry into shape for a collection. So now, after many hours of work, sifting through dozens of poems, whittling down the best, sorting everything into themes, designing a cover (always there in my mind’s eye, with the title decided upon years ago), I am finally there.

It was a revelation choosing the themes, as it showed me how almost unconsciously I kept returning to certain subjects. Birds and flight are a major inspiration, as are paintings, love, and water (particularly ice).

I hope you will consider buying and reading my first poetry collection. And remember, a poetry book makes a fantastic Christmas present for family and friends!

Happy reading!

 

It’s National Poetry Day! To celebrate, here’s a poem…

Bird Garden, Hong Kong

A big pastime for old men in Hong Kong is keeping songbirds. There’s a large garden in Kowloon, where many go to feed birds in return for songs. I wrote this poem about that garden when I visited it in 2001.

Old man and songbird

The poem was first published in Poetry File by the Belmont Arts Centre, for teaching in Secondary Schools in Shropshire. It will feature in my forthcoming poetry book, Up in the Air (out later this month). I’m posting it today because it’s National Poetry Day.

Isn’t it great we have a day to celebrate poetry!?

 

New-look Newsletter

Just a quick post to say I’ve updated the format of my newsletter. It’s got a lot more information about what I’ve been up to, including what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to – and especially more on what I’ve been writing.

Don’t miss out – use the form on the side of the page to sign up now if you haven’t already!

Happy reading…

Steve Griffin newsletter

Autumn Writing Update

People have been asking what I’m up to now that I’ve finished writing The Secret of the Tirthas. So here’s my Autumn Update….

I’ve taken the summer off from writing! After spending the last 4 summers writing and publishing novels (albeit with short hols thrown in), this year I decided to have a break. What did I do? I went here with my family:

Niagara Falls

That’s Niagara Falls by the way, for those who don’t recognise it. Wow. I mean, wow

Now I’m back, I’m compiling a book of poetry that I’ve written over the last [mumble…mumble] years. This includes collecting some of the poems that I’ve had published in magazines such as Poetry Ireland, The New Welsh Review, and Poetry Scotland.

It’s fun getting all this together – but it’s not doing much flexing of my imagination muscles. So I’m also thinking about my next book. I’ve got a few ideas swirling around – speculative fiction for young adults and / or grown-ups; another fantasy series for middle grade / teens; something more ‘literary’. Some of these ideas have been around for years, some are entirely new. But what I’m waiting for (or maybe working my subconscious on) is the writer’s eureka moment. That moment every author knows, when they feel that pure excitement and know this is the story they are going to tell because… well, because they have to tell it. It’s too exciting to let it go.

So, besides lots of family time, that’s what I’m up to now. Plus I’ll be doing to a few promotional activities in the real and social media worlds – including a book signing session at Barton’s bookshop in Leatherhead for Christmas on 1st December.

Let me know what you’re up to in the comments section, or send me an email at stevegriffin40@outlook.com!

 

TigerFish – a gripping story of a young Vietnamese refugee

“Do you see how beautifully this hardship has shaped and formed the stretching branches and foliage, like long slender fingers pointing toward the sea?”

Hoang Chi Truong’s autobiography of her experience as a young girl fleeing the Vietnam war is fascinating on many levels: as an insight into Vietnamese culture, both before and after the war; as a harrowing tale of the upheaval and existential terror of having to flee your own country to save your life; of the nuanced and changing feelings towards the culture and people that take you in as a refugee.

I found the story gripping from start to finish. The language is precise and evocative, with moments of poetic beauty, such as the quote above. I recommend you read the story of TigerFish, not only for its own many merits, but as a stark reminder of the need for countries to be bigger and wiser and kinder towards refugees.

You can purchase a copy here: