The ‘Z’ Books… #A-Z books

And here it is – the last post in my 26-part blog series, started on April 7th 2019 and continued – roughly – every month ever since. It’s an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Each month I posted a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.
So here we go, for the last time, and like ‘X’ and ‘Y’, ‘Z’ is slightly tricky. I decided when I started that I wouldn’t read books especially for the series. I wanted it to be my own personal A-Z, and reading books in order to include them here would make the whole thing artificial. So this week, one of the titles more or less begins with ‘Z’ while the other two have a ‘Z’ somewhere within.

The ‘Z’ books:

Today is Daniel Lizard’s twenty-first birthday and he has just completed his autobiography. Now, he plans on killing himself, leaving behind possibly the longest suicide note ever committed to paper.  
Daniel creates soap operas in his head – a game that he plays on his paper-round. Rather than a phase, this is just the beginning of a fantasy that becomes more and more elaborate as the people around Daniel become his unwitting co-stars.
Daniel begins to realise that, in life, you cannot write all of the scripts, there is no-one there to shout cut or hit rewind and, inevitably, all manipulations have their repercussions.

This was one of the first books I read after my debut novel was published – at that time, James Higgerson and I shared a publisher. It’s a fascinating book with a very different and oddly likeable main character.

The ultimate children’s classic – long summer days filled with adventure.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger sail their boat, Swallow, to a deserted island for a summer camping trip. Exploring and playing sailors is an adventure in itself but the island holds more excitement in store. Two fierce Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, challenge them to war and a summer of battles and alliances ensues.

This is one of my all-time favourites, and one of the first books I remember being given as a birthday present when I was seven or eight. I’d already seen and loved the TV series, and I remember to this day how pleased I was when I opened the parcel from Aunt Pam – and there was the book.

“For many years I had wanted to start a zoo . . . any reasonable person smitten with an ambition of this sort would have secured the zoo first and obtained the animals afterwards. but throughout my life I have rarely if ever achieved what I wanted by tackling it in a logical fashion.”

A Zoo in My Luggage is Gerald Durrell’s account of his attempt to set up his own zoo, after years spent gathering animals for other zoos. Journeying to Cameroon, he and his wife collected numerous mammals, birds and reptiles, including Cholmondely the chimpanzee and Bug-eye the bush-baby.

But their problems really began when they attempted to return with their exotic menagerie. Not only had they to get them safely home to Britain but they also had to find somewhere able and – most of all – willing to house them.

Told with wit and a zest for all things furry and feathered, Gerald Durrell’s A Zoo in My Luggage is a brilliant account of how a pioneer of wildlife preservation came to found a new type of zoo.

The wonderful Gerald Durrell, and what better book to end the A-Z? One day I’d like to go to Jersey and visit his zoo there, but that’s another plan for another year.

Thank you all for reading the A-Z posts – it was a very self-indulgent series, but I really enjoyed doing it!

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Summer on the building site…

It’s the fourth of July – Happy Independence Day, if you’re celebrating today. Happy summer too, and here’s hoping we get one. Here in Switzerland, we’ve had bursts of heat followed by violent storms followed by days of drizzle… and so on. However, in a summer where it’s difficult to travel, I’m very glad to live in such a picturesque part of the world. The problem is that here in my flat, just a few minutes’ walk from Lake Constance, it’s less idyllic than down by the lake.

Living in the middle of three separate building projects has its downside. In a word, DUST. During the week, I take the Quentin Crisp approach (he maintained dust became no worse after the first four years), then have a bit of a clean up for the weekend. Usually. And almost as bad as the dust is the NOISE. Bang bang drone drone RUMBLE from dawn to dusk. Project 1 (the street renovation and main dust producer) is scheduled to finish in August. Project 2 (newbuild and main noise producer) is scheduled to finish this century. Project 3 (erection of storage unit) produces (in comparison) little noise and so far little dust, so they’re my favourites by quite a long way.

All we can do is grin and bear it (who am I kidding, we moan about it non-stop). But this week, I had three lovely pieces of book news to distract me:

  1. The paperback version of Baby Dear, which at the moment is re-released on kindle only, is almost ready – I’m hoping it’ll be out next month sometime. Tax and/or custom restrictions mean it’s impossible to have physical proof copies sent from Amazon to Switzerland, which in turn means my Amazon proofs have to go the long way via my family in the UK. (Thanks here to my brother for the proof-checking skills he didn’t know he had until The Runaway came out.) 🙂

2. A few weeks ago I was invited to record a podcast with the ladies at Book Lover’s Companion in Vienna – we didn’t record in Vienna, unfortunately, though by leaning over to my right I could see Austria from my chair here at home while we were doing the interview. And one day I’ll go back to Vienna; it’s such a lovely city. The podcast is out tomorrow, 5th July, and you can listen to it HERE. And you can listen to a two-minute taster on my Facebook Author Page HERE.

3. Last but definitely not least, Daria’s Daughter is going to be an audiobook – Hobeck Books sent me a short extract from the recording yesterday. It’s being narrated by Lianne Walker, a Scottish audiobook narrator/producer, and it’s going to be fabulous.

Next week – I can hardly believe it, but next week is the ‘Z’ books on the blog. The end of the alphabet and the end of my long-running series. I’ll miss it.

For now, though, it’s Sunday, the builders aren’t here and we can hear the birds sing. I’ll leave you with some lovely peaceful summer in Switzerland photos.

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Classic Comfort Reads… with Sharon Booth

The idea behind the Classic Comfort posts is that each featured writer chooses a favourite title from the classics – we’ll define ‘classic’ as pre-1940 – and a favourite comfort read, a book they always return to, for whatever reasons. As third book in each post, we’ll have one by the writer, usually their latest book. This week, we have romance writer Sharon Booth, who I first ‘met’ on Facebook in – I think – 2013, when we were both writing a short story for the charity anthology Winter Tales.
Over to Sharon:

Classic:

I watched an adaptation of this novel in my late teens and thought Jane an insipid weakling. A few years later, a good friend of mine begged me to forget the television series and films and read the actual book. After much persuasion I finally gave in. I was hooked. The story and the setting are fantastic, and I’m a great admirer of Mr Rochester (!) but it’s Jane who really delights and amazes me. She has such a strong sense of social justice, and I love how she knows her own worth, no matter how badly she’s treated by those around her. When I read, “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself” I honestly get the shivers. Jane knows who she is, and she doesn’t lose sight of that, no matter how great the hardship or the temptation. I absolutely love her, and she has my total admiration.   

Comfort:

Any of the Adrian Mole books would do. I just love them. They’re full of humour, but there’s such pathos in them, too. Laughing at Adrian’s misfortunes one minute, in the next I might shed a tear over his sense of hopelessness or feel angry as he and his mother wait for the mythical giro, and Adrian frets that they’re about to starve to death.

It’s a great social commentary on life at that time, and hits pretty close to home for many contemporary readers, sadly. Who would have believed that a diary of a spotty, angst-ridden teenage boy would be so gripping? Adrian is the product of genius, and I recognise and understand his world and the people in it. I will never get tired of reading about Moley and his family.

Sharon has written several series of romantic novels. I’ve read several and they’re all lovely feel-good reads. The latest is The Whole of the Moon, published at the end of May. It’s number four in the Kearton Bay series, which begins with There Must be An Angel.

When Harry Jarvis arrives in Kearton Bay on the evening of the Samhain ceremony at The Hare and Moon Inn, his sole intention is to rebuild his relationship with daughter Amy and start afresh. But Amy isn’t the little girl he left behind, and she’s not going to let him off the hook that easily. With two ex-wives to placate, a failing career, a tumbledown property to renovate, and a terrible reputation to live down, Harry’s about to find that making a fresh start in Kearton Bay won’t be as easy as he’d hoped.

Rhiannon Bone understands what it feels like to be estranged from a child, since her son left Kearton Bay nearly four years ago, leaving their relationship in tatters. When he returns for a special event, she hopes they can put the past behind them, but is Derry ready to forgive and forget?

For both Rhiannon and Harry, the mistakes they made in the past are still making ripples in the present. But as secrets are revealed and life-changing decisions are made, they begin to realise that it’s not just other people’s forgiveness they need.

If they’re to have any sort of future, they must first forgive themselves…

Thank you, Sharon! I love Adrian Mole and Jane Eyre too!

Sharon Booth writes uplifting fiction with a touch of magic. Happy endings are guaranteed for her main characters, though she likes to make them work for it.
Sharon is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and an Authorpreneur member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
She loves Doctor Who, Cary Grant movies, hares, and horses – not necessarily in that order.
Sharon grew up in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and the Yorkshire coast and countryside feature strongly in her novels.

Her stories are set in pretty villages and quirky market towns, by the sea or in the countryside, and feature lots of humour, romance, and friendship. If you love gorgeous, kind heroes, and heroines who have far more important things on their minds than buying shoes, you’ll love her books.

For links to social media and Sharon’s website visit: https://linktr.ee/sharonboothwriter
where you can also subscribe to her newsletter and get a FREE novella.

Next month, we’re having crime writer AB Morgan with her choice of books. 🙂


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Writing conversation during a pandemic…

‘Make your conversation real’, is one piece of general advice when you’re writing a book. ‘Don’t use conversation to dump information’ is another, and that one’s easy enough. Don’t write things like: ‘Do you remember how we visited your ninety-year-old but very robust grandmother yesterday, in the gorgeous new villa in Kent she bought last July for over a million pounds?’ asked Jemima.
There are better ways of letting the reader know the relevant details about Grandma.

But – ‘real’ conversation?? When I consider some of the conversations I’ve had with my family and friends over the past year and a half, I don’t even know what ‘real’ is any more. Even the everyday stuff has taken on a surreal hue, and more puzzling, what is ‘real’ today might not be ‘real’ tomorrow…

A few examples:

Son 2, on his way to the station (and probably late): ‘Can I have one of your face masks? Where are the face masks?’
(The new reality is that you read that and knew why he needed a face mask to go to the station.)

Me, on a rare occasion when both my children were visiting at the same time: ‘Why is the hand sanitiser on the hall floor?’ (You don’t need to know the answer. Welcome to today’s world.)

Son 1, on arriving for a visit, flapping his arms while speaking: ‘Socially-distanced hug!’
The answer to this is always: (flapping arms) ‘Socially distanced hug right back and did you do a lateral flow test before you came?’
(He comes into contact with a large number of people at work. In a week or two, though, we’ll both be double-jabbed, so this is – thankfully – another piece of changing reality.)

Friend: ‘It’s lovely weather, let’s go out for lunch.’
Me: ‘To a restaurant?!?’
Friend: ‘Of course not, what do you think!!?’
(This one changes as restrictions ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what’s open and what’s not – and what’s safe and what’s not is a different reality to different people, too.)

Friend, eating an ice cream on a socially-distanced walk: ‘This is lovely, but you won’t want to try some.’
(Well, no, I wouldn’t, not these days. Not yet.)

What’s happening in real life makes me glad to be a writer. For a few hours every day, I can ignore this parallel universe we’ve landed in, and go back to the good old days when we didn’t have to worry about friends and relatives catching Covid, when social distancing didn’t exist and hand sanitiser on your hallway table wasn’t a thing. Maybe that’s why I’m writing feel-good fiction for now, and not psych. suspense. Maybe one day, enough time will have passed to allow us to look back objectively and make sense of it all – though not everyone has enough years left to do that. And no, you won’t be reading about this pandemic in any of my books. Fiction is definitely better than fact at the moment.

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The ‘Y’ Books… #A-Z books

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

Like ‘X’, ‘Y’ is slightly tricky. I decided when I started that I wouldn’t read books especially for the series. I wanted it to be my own personal A-Z, and reading books in order to include them here would make the whole thing artificial. So this week, one of the titles begins with ‘Y’ while the other two have a ‘Y’ word somewhere within.

The ‘Y’ books:

Eighteen years ago your baby daughter was snatched. Today, she came back.

Eighteen years ago, Simone Porter’s six-month-old daughter, Helena, was abducted. Simone and husband, Matt, have slowly rebuilt their shattered lives, but the pain at losing their child has never left them.
Then a young woman, Grace, appears out of the blue and tells Simone she has information about her stolen baby. But just who is Grace – and can Simone trust her?
When Grace herself disappears, Simone becomes embroiled in a desperate search for her baby and the woman who has vital clues about her whereabouts.
Simone is inching closer to the truth but it’ll take her into dangerous and disturbing territory.

Simone lost her baby. Will she lose her life trying to find her?

I read this book shortly after it came out, and loved it. It’s one of those books that are REALLY hard to put down once you’ve started. Is there a happy end of Simone? Read it and see…

Published in 1852, when he was just twenty-four, Childhood was Tolstoy’s first published work, and the first of a trilogy of stories that evoke the upbringing and traditional education of a Russian aristocrat in a world that vanished with the revolution.

In this self-portrait, narrated by its protagonist Nikólya, the young Tolstoy captured the textures of adolescence with a psychological insight and subtlety of analysis that look forward to his mature achievements; while his matchless objectivity – summoning the smells, sights and sounds of early childhood – is already fully present in these pages.

This isn’t exactly a children’s book, but I read it at secondary school and was fascinated by the very different world it showed me. I haven’t read it since – maybe I should; it’s still on my shelf.

When Dr. Susan Chandler decides to use her daily radio talk show to explore the phenomenon of women who disappear and are later found to have become victims of killers who prey on the lonely and insecure, she has no idea that she is exposing herself – and those closest to her – to the very terror that she hopes to warn others against.
Susan sets out to determine who is responsible for an attempt on the life of a woman who called in to the show offering information on the mysterious disappearance from a cruise ship, years before, of Regina Clausen, a wealthy investment advisor. Soon Susan finds herself in a race against time, for not only does the killer stalk these lonely women, but he seems intent on eliminating anyone who can possibly further Susan’s investigation. As her search intensifies, Susan finds herself confronted with the realisation that one of the men who have become important figures in her life might actually be the killer. And as she gets closer to uncovering his identity, she realizes almost too late that the hunter has become the hunted, and that she herself is marked for murder.

The cruise ship disappearance makes this book a little different to other ‘disappearing women’ novels – I really enjoyed it, though I wouldn’t advise reading it while you’re on a cruise…

So that was the ‘Y’ books – I’m quite sad this series is coming to an end. One more post to go!

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(Almost) Silent Sunday – A Lake in Switzerland…

I’m lucky to live on the banks of Lake Constance, the second largest lake in Switzerland.
(Photos from Pixabay.)

Blue lake…

I used to have nightmares about this kind of thing when my boys were at the teenage-pedalo stage…

Sunset on the Alpstein range.

Next week, it’s the ‘Y’ books!

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Classic Comfort Reads… with Malcolm Hollingdrake

The idea behind the Classic Comfort posts is that each featured writer chooses a favourite title from the classics – we’ll define ‘classic’ as pre-1940 – and a favourite comfort read, a book they always return to, for whatever reasons. As third book in each post, we’ll have one by the writer, usually their latest book. This week, we have crime writer Malcolm Hollingdrake, author of the popular Harrogate Crime series. The second book in his new Merseyside Crime Series was published earlier this month. Over to Malcolm:

Classic:

I cannot remember when I was introduced to the work of H H Munro, possibly just after leaving college. I love short stories and this collection is inspiring if of its time. I love the vocabulary used and the brevity of the tales. A favourite from book 1 is Sredni Vashtar and the opening line – “Conandrin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years.” Want to read more? I certainly did.

Munro’s rich use of words fascinates me. When describing an old tool-shed the boy has Munro describes how he used it– “He had peopled it with a legion of familiar phantoms evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood.” Wonderful.

Munro was born in 1870 and died in 1916. Shot in the head by a sniper.

Comfort:

I love the works of David Hockney so when this book was published it was purchased immediately. Hockney, a Bradford boy like myself, is a driven man. Each day is filled with observation and creativity. He’s a man who has taken to technology and embraced a world of artistic possibilities.

The book describes his year through lockdown in France taking the form of an interview. It gives a clear insight into the thoughts of a man in his eighties who has much to do whilst being fully aware that the sand is running ever more quickly through the hour glass. Well illustrated and very enlightening.

Both Catch as Catch Can and Syn, the first books in Malcolm’s Merseyside Crime Series, were published this spring. I’ve read Catch as Catch Can – it’s fabulous – and Syn is waiting on my kindle. Here’s the blurb for Catch as Catch Can to tempt you into the series:

A mutilated body apparently washed up on a windswept beach…
A violent criminal gang preys on moped riders across the area…
A teenage girl desperate to escape sexual exploitation…

It’s a tough introduction to Merseyside for DI April Decent, who has just arrived from her native Yorkshire. Together with new colleague Skeeter Warlock, Decent quickly discovers there’s a sinister link between them all, one that will bring them face-to-face with some uncomfortable truths.

Thank you, Malcolm – I’m looking forward to getting stuck into Syn!

You could say that the writing was clearly on the wall for someone born in a library that they might aspire to be an author, but to get to that point Malcolm Hollingdrake has travelled a circuitous route.

Malcolm worked in education for many years, even teaching for a period in Cairo before he started writing, a challenge he had longed to tackle for more years than he cares to remember. 
He has written a number of successful short stories, has thirteen books now available and is presently writing the eleventh crime novel set in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. 

Born in Bradford and spending three years at Ripon College, Malcolm has never lost his love for his home county, a passion that is reflected in the settings for all the Harrogate novels. However, as well as the Harrogate Crime Series he has written a new series set in Merseyside published by Hobeck Books.

You can find out more about Malcolm and his books on his website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Future plans and a #NewBook

It’s the holiday weekend in Switzerland, and we have a couple of bookish things to celebrate here in my flat.
The first is something I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks – then on Friday afternoon an interesting envelope arrived from Hobeck Books.

I opened it and found: a contract, now signed and on its way back to the UK! Yes, suspense novel number eleven is on the way, and I’m very excited about it. The story opens on the Isle of Skye, but the rest of the book is set in Yorkshire, a place I’ve visited many times to see family and friends. We’re still in the middle of structural edits and the title isn’t set in stone yet either, so it’s very early days and I’ll be sharing more as summer (if it ever arrives) progresses.

We may have popped a cork or two on Friday night…

So that’s the #NewBook part of my post. The future plans part is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time: my novella series set right here in N.E. Switzerland. The fact that I ended up with so many of the creatures wasn’t part of the original plan, which was for one, possibly two novellas. But plans expand and A Lake in Switzerland was followed by A Spa… followed by Trouble… followed by Christmas… followed by Wedding Bells… Five little books, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I should do more with them. They’ll be unpublished this weekend, and I’m going to turn them into fewer, but full-length feel-good/romance novels. Number one is well on the way already, and I’ll be sharing news about that project as I go too. Stacy, Rico and Emily will be back…

I’ll leave you with a photo of the real lake in Switzerland, the one I see every day.
Next week, it’s crime writer Malcolm Hollingdrake on the blog, with his choice of classic and comfort reads – see you then!

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Can you read English? #joke

This was originally going to be a post about books. However, we’ll leave that for next week when I can spill all my news at once, and instead, we’ll have a post about English. Specifically, reading English.

A few weeks ago, I was tidying my English-teaching material and came across a joke. Remember a few years back, there was a lot of talk about phonetics and how written language could be simplified, making it easier for children and non-native speakers to learn to read and write? There were lots of jokes about it – here’s one of them!

Improving the English language

Her Majesty’s Government has just announced a five-year phase-in of new rules which would apply to the English language, greatly simplifying spelling and enabling children to learn more quickly and easily.

The agreed plan is as follows:

In year 1, the soft ‘c’ will be replased by the ‘s’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be replased by ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan now have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome ‘ph’ is replaced by ‘f’. This will reduse ‘fotograf’ by 20%. In addition, ‘u’ will be replaced by ‘w’ in words like ‘langwage’.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated langwage changes are posible. The Government will enkourage the removal of double leters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent leters, partikularly ‘e’s, in the langwag is not only dum but apaling and shoud be stopd.

The bigest langwag changs wil com in year 4, when pepl wil be reseptiv to lingwistik korekshons such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and turning ze soft ‘ti’ into ‘sh’ in words kontaining ‘tion’. Ze situashon wil be furzer simplifid bi replasing ze leter ‘y’ wiz ‘i’.

During ze fifz iar, ze unesesary dubl vowls be dropd, for instans from words kontaning ‘ou’, and similar changs wud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinashons of leters. Evrizing wil now be reli unkomplikatd, and mor students wil pas exams.

After zis fifz iar, we wil hav a reli sensibl riten stil. Zer wil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evriwun wil find it esi to akwir ze langwag. Publik apreshiashon wil be at its hit, and literari acomplishments lik riting wil be at a veri hi level. I’m sur yu kan al hardli wat!

Personally, I’m very glad this never caught on… I think a plan like that would be enough to put me off writing books for the rest of my life! Meanwhile, come back next week for a couple of pieces of very exciting book news!

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The ‘X’ Books… #A-Z books

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month – X – is where it starts to get a little tricky. I decided when I started that I wouldn’t read books especially for the series. I wanted it to be my own personal A-Z, and reading books in order to include them here would make the whole thing artificial. I’m sure there are books around beginning with X, but I haven’t read any. So this week, any book with X somewhere in the title counts.

My X books are:

Newly married Natasha has the perfect house, a loving husband and a beautiful little girl called Emily. She’d have it all if it wasn’t for Jen, her husband’s ex-wife who just won’t leave them alone …

Then Natasha returns home one day to find her husband and Emily gone without trace. Desperate to get her daughter back, Natasha will do anything even if it means accepting an offer of help from Jen. But can she trust her? And do either of them really know the man they married?

This is just the kind of book I love. The characters start out in a perfectly normal world. Natasha could be us, or someone we know. Then things get darker and darker and before we know it… No spoilers here, but I’m glad I’m not Natasha!

Evadne is near to boiling point. All day things have gone wrong, and now two hours of chemistry, which for Evadne is too boring! She feels it’s time she livened up a chemistry lesson, so with a dash of this and a dash of that… Then a prolonged hiss, followed by an almightly explosion! It reverberated throught the school. Windows shatter, glass crucibles and jars smash. The laboratory is enveloped in black soot and there is an evil smell everywhere.

Just what was that concoction – and even worse, what has happened to Evadne?

This is one of a handful of books I’ve featured here where I had to copy the blurb from the the back of my own copy, as it’s old enough to not be on Amazon – though some secondhand books are. Who wouldn’t have loved to go to the Chalet School? The image above is my own battered paperback, which has accompanied me through several decades and even more house moves.

It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

This book was first published in 1979, but it must have been about 2009 before I read it – and it might have taken me longer if my older son hadn’t given it to me one time. Then I saw what I’d been missing!

Next month it’s the ‘Y’ books, the penultimate post in the series. I’ll be sorry when it ends…

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