A Good Home

A Literary Ape

Be warned: today I’m writing about a great ape. One who does a lot for authors around the world, and accepts payment only in virtual bananas.  

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If you love books – reading them or writing them — you may have visited the Story Reading Ape website. It’s a treasure trove of  books, authors from around the world and the craft of writing and publishing.

Small TSRA Blog Logo showing a silverback gorilla reading an Origin of Man book

But the ape, aka Chris Graham, writes almost nothing about himself. 

We know he loves books (“I don’t so much read books as devour them”), that author Terry Pratchett is a literary hero, and not much else.

I count Chris as a friend. I should.  It’s partly because of Chris that the first Myrtle the Purple Turtle book was published, despite my lack of confidence. (It went on to win media headlines, an award, much praise from critics and bestseller status, and Chris has rejoiced with me at each achievement.)  

Myrtle - Cover latest at 2MB

But I don’t know what Chris looks like.  He claims his only photos are on his driver’s license and passport.

Some apes — erm… people — are so darned difficult!

When pushed, Chris admits to being a retired mechanical / electrical consultant engineer, whose work took him around the world.

He and his wife now live in Hereford Cathedral City, Herefordshire, England, “in a small one bedroom 3rd floor apartment with a view of trees, rooftops and four small carparks”.   He has a daughter and a younger sister. 

3 December: Hereford Cathedral - Classical Music
Photo Credit: BBC

I had more questions.

Q: What led you to start the Story Reading Ape?

A: I’ve always been an avid reader. After years of lugging books around various parts of the world, in December 2012 I bought an eBook Reader (a Nook). On it was a free app for Goodreads.

There, I not only recorded as many of the books I could remember reading, I learned the how and why of book reviews and started doing them, on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, as well as Goodreads. 

Blog Photo - Chris reading ebook

However, I was shocked to see so many authors pleading with Goodreads members, to help them promote their books.

These were a different breed to the traditionally published authors I was familiar with; these were self-published authors.

To help out, I started reading and reviewing self-published books and I found that many of the stories were just as entertaining and well written as traditional versions.

However, as well as reviews, there were pleas for people to promote books on blogs, so I researched the hows and popularity of blogs, leading me to start one in March 2013.

Instead of blogging my book reviews, I decided to feature and promote authors (as well as their books), plus build up writer resources to help them hone and enhance their writing and provide book marketing ideas.

Q: How does it feel to realize the impact you’ve had?

A: I don’t think I’ve made any particular impact. There are thousands of blogs who do what I do, much better and more professionally.

(Cynthia quietly scoffs at this piece of modesty. The blog has more than 15-thousand regular followers, and many more visitors from around the world.  Numerous authors have been helped by its articles.)

Q: What are some of the most surprising things that have happened since you started it?

Having people regularly follow, read, like and share blog posts garnered together by a great ape 😃

Q: What’s changed about Indie writing-publishing since you started the site?

A: It has to be the increasing popularity of self publishing, instead of going through the agonies of trying to get traditionally published.

Q: How have you personally grown/changed as a result of the site?

A: I’ve learned (and continue to learn) a LOT about what is involved in writing stories, poems, blogging and book marketing. I’m also pleased with my own efforts in book cover design (which I no longer do, due to time constraints).

Blog Photo - Chris Graham book cover designs

 I even managed to publish a book of my Mum’s poetry (I made the cover as well).

My Vibrating Vertebrae: and other poems - Kindle edition by Graham ...

My Vibrating Vertebrae: and other poems

Q: What is your life like outside the site?

A: I alternate between reading, researching articles for my blog’s author resources, developing skills in graphics and animation.

My wife makes sure I get plenty of exercise by taking me for walks (the area being confined to around the cathedral city of Hereford at present, due to the COVID-19 restrictions).

Q: And what are your hopes for yourself and the Story Reading Ape?

A: A long life, health and continued enjoyment blogging.

Thanks, Chris — you reluctant hero, you!

A Good Home

Rediscovering Novelist-Playwright James Baldwin

“If we do not falter in our duty now, we may be able … to end the racial nightmare, and change the history of the world.”

James Baldwin wrote these words in one of two essays later published as The Fire Next Time. He wrote them in 1962 — fifty-eight years ago.

Blog Photo - Book cover The Fire Next time -Penguin

You may, like me, have read his books in earlier years. (You weren’t cool if you hadn’t read James Baldwin in the late 60’s to 80’s.)  But if you haven’t read James Baldwin, or seen his speeches, I suggest you do.  

This novelist and playwright had a rare brilliance, a superb understanding of humanity, a searing eloquence.  And though he died in 1987, there’s a great resurgence of interest in his ideas.

Baldwin took big, complex issues and brought them straight back to the humans involved.  His words were blunt, yet thoughtfully chosen and often elegant.  It was a rare gift.

Tony Norman: The furious eloquence of James Baldwin | Pittsburgh ...
Credit: Pittsburg Post-Gazette

To explain why the average Black American person is so much poorer than the average White, he used the first person singular to speak for a whole race who had been denied the right to earn money for hundreds of years.

I picked the cotton, and I carried it to the market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing.  For nothing.”

He used the example of a White sheriff and his Black victim to illustrate how systemic racism dehumanizes not only its target, but also the person who administers it.

It’s no surprise that he didn’t see America’s system of racial injustice as a Black problem to be solved by Blacks.

Or that when he said “We” — which he frequently did — he meant both Blacks and Whites in America. 

Image may contain: 2 people
James Baldwin and Bob Dylan

For all kinds of reasons, I wish I’d met him, but since I can’t, I’ve been reading articles about him, and watching his speeches.

His 1965 debate against William F. Buckley at Cambridge University in Britain is suspenseful, brilliant, and shockingly relevant today:

Despite its tragic flaws, Baldwin loved America. His books and speeches come from the soul of  a man who loved his country deeply, in spite of how it treated him and others.

“It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers, you are the Indian.”

“It comes as a great shock … to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance… has not pledged allegiance to you.”

What’s shocking is how much James Baldwin’s analysis of America’s racial injustice is still relevant today.  In light of the BLM protests, often led by young people,  this statement made me sit up:

“Young people, unlike people my age… the truth, I think, is that their elders have betrayed them.”

So here we are: our generation has soul-searching to do, and some of us have been doing exactly that.  We fought the good fight, but then we got tired and dropped the ball.  Luckily, the young people – their rage, their hope — have shaken us awake. 

I return to James Baldwin’s own words:

“I never have been  in despair about the world.  I’m enraged by it … but I can’t afford despair.  I can’t tell my nephew, my niece … I can’t tell the children there’s no hope.”

 

 

 

 

A Good Home

Babies and Books

Shall we start with the best part first?

Our grandbaby was christened a week ago. In our garden. Well, on the deck overlooking the garden.

The sun shone warmly, the birds sang a variety of tunes, and the sweet babe, dressed in her beautiful lace christening gown, was secure and placid in her father’s arms.  Her mother and grandparents beamed with joy while the priest and deacon conducted the sacred ceremony.

The majority of the audience — family members and godparents — attended from afar, by Skype, Zoom and Google Hangout, via laptop computers.

A christening in a garden, attended via the internet? We live in unusual times.

But much of life continues as usual. It’s summer and gardening weather – which is not to say I’m gardening much, but that I’m enjoying the sight and sound of the garden.  The water in the fountain gently flows. Hummingbirds feed on the red bee balm.  Mother and father wren share parenting and housecleaning duties – the hatching and feeding, the nest-cleaning. 

Our daughter does a great imitation of a wren, flapping ‘wings’ and all.  She says the phrase ‘busy as a bee’ should be changed to ‘busy as a wren’ because these birds never seem to take a break.

To give her parents a break, I take my granddaughter around the garden, pointing out the birds, the flowers, the leaves, the trees and the running water. She looks and listens intently, as if reflecting.

Our potted plants gave me cause for reflection this summer – on how gardening plans can go awry.  My colour scheme of yellow, white and blue in one ‘room’ of the garden was ruined when the yellow canna lilies turned out to be ‘coral’ coloured – mislabeled.  I scowled, then promptly decided to enjoy coral.

Funny — once you get over the early terror of the pandemic, and the intense focus on being safe, you can decide to enjoy this enforced ‘staycation’.  It helps to note and give thanks for our great privileges — among them reasonably good health, spending time with family, and being in frequent touch with loved ones who live elsewhere.

I am at the stage of deep gratitude.

Small privileges matter too. I stuck with and finished reading a book at last — something I couldn’t do while my anxiety was high. A second reading of “Dust” by Martha Grimes.

Reading it this time took so long that I noticed something I hadn’t before: the new female police boss, a powerful character of Latin American heritage, was used to spice up Grimes’ British murder mystery series — then thrown away in a disappointing deus ex machina ending. Worthy of a James Bond movie, perhaps, but I expected better from this author.

Perhaps I also noticed it because the racial injustice leading to the Black Lives Matter protests have made me more reflective these days. I notice things more. Like whose stories are told and valued, whether in monuments or on television. 

And who gets thrown away.

It’s real life, and it colours even how I read a book.

Real life has a big claim on my time right now.  I tinker around the edges of previously written material, but haven’t done much book-writing.   The time required is better spent with my grandbaby, I know. 

The book will still be there – but she is growing so fast and I want to both help her parents and bear witness to her growth.

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My special thanks to bloggers and readers of my books who send me email notes. Stay safe and be well.

Cynthia.

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home

SHE HAS TWIGS IN HER HAIR

I simply love this review by Toronto writer Lionel Gayle:

Blog Photo - Lionel Gayle and Bookcase - Header Image

 

SHE HAS TWIGS IN HER HAIR

Plants flourishing in the garden—such a colourful scene.  Perhaps it stirred up envy or stoked admiration in a few visitors and passers-by.  Everything seemed hunky-dory, they probably said.  And the gardener just had to sow the seeds, or plant the seedlings, or stick the cuttings in fertile soil. Plus, adding water if it didn’t rain. A few months later, jackpot! Pretty flowers ready for the vase, and fresh vegetables for the steamer.

Growing a garden from roots to shoots—or by any method—is not so simple.

Ask Cynthia Reyes.  The “passionate gardener” shares a piece of her horticultural world in her latest gardening memoir, “Twigs in my Hair” (2019).

She’ll tell you, “Gardening is much more than growing pretty flowers and nutritious vegetables.”

And, let’s say you decided to garden outside of Toronto as she does, prepare yourselves to wage a helluva war—or wars—with wild creatures, including rabbits and squirrels.

People will say gardening is hard work. But you don’t have to be interested in gardening per se to appreciate this book—157 pages of fun reading, and colourful photographs. Take the chance to snoop into Cynthia’s family life, and find out which member prefers to grow vegetables than flowers.

Just promise you won’t whine because the pictures have no captions. And, don’t liken the images to children without names

“Twigs in my Hair” is a synopsis of Cynthia Reyes’ life journey. A journey that includes her dream of becoming a gardener when she became an adult and acquired her own home. From rural Jamaica, where the failure of her first childhood garden broke her heart, she’s managed to forge a symbiosis with nature, on the outskirts of Toronto.

This little book has lots of real-life gems. As you hide indoors from Covid-19, just use the gardening landscape as a backdrop to some of Cynthia’s lifetime activities. And hide your surprise when she talks frankly about her “days and nights of sin” that turned her into “a dirty old woman.”

What she describes as the “conflict of horticultural proportions” resulted in a bangarang with her husband Hamlin Grange (who supplied the photos in this book). But what was the fight all about? And did they ever learn to garden together?

Did Cynthia ever find out why her gardening teacher refused to see her in his last days? And what was she doing in South Africa when the said tall, white-haired gardener died?

And while you hunt for those juicy bits, find out how the mother and wife, who styled herself as “a fierce gardener” reacted when her gardener friend, Les, pulled a prank on her. And see who saved her from the gigantic humiliation.

Twigs in my Hair: A Gardening Memoir