Under a coconut palm canopy by a golden beach or squeezed like a sardine into a Monarch Airlines plane seat - surely intended for dwarves or amputees, it's nice to read - far from the hurly burly of one's ordinary working life. Good books deserve commitment from the reader - not snatched half hour sessions before you turn off the light at bedtime.
This holiday I read "Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie, "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks and "Mister Teacher" by Jack Sheffield.
Maconie's book was a passionate celebration of the oft-maligned North of England. I really enjoyed it even though it had a bias towards Maconie's home county - Lancashire. There was fun and laughter, interesting facts and accounts of particular visits Maconie made while researching the book. The prose style was surprisingly well-crafted, lucid and intelligent without being pompous and over-bearing. Sadly there was little focus on either Hull or Sheffield and there were a few mistakes - such as the claim that Sheffield's southern suburbs are in Derbyshire and that the late black comedian Charlie Williams was a Bradfordian - he actually hailed from Barnsley. How I would love to write a similar book exclusively about Yorkshire but I probably never will.
"Birdsong" was beautiful. It was filled with horror and tenderness as it traversed the last century with a particular focus upon the main protagonist - Stephen Wraysford and his experiences in World War I. Between Goa and Manchester International, I hardly stopped reading this fabulous novel. Every page and indeed every word seemed to count. Thank you Sebastian Faulks! It was infinitely more engaging than the first Faulks novel I read - "Human Traces" which tries but fails to reproduce the artistic and emotional "magic" of "Birdsong".
In contrast, "Mister Teacher" was pure rubbish. Trite and predictable - it hardly made any effort whatsoever to capture a sense of real village life in the north of England or indeed to reflect the reality of a village headmaster's working life in the late nineteen seventies. For heaven's sake - the head called at the village shop every morning to pick up his copy of "The Times" but there was no reference to him ever reading it and besides what busy headteacher would have ever found time to read a morning paper during term time? This was sugar-coated, mind-numbing formulaic pap which taught me a lot about how not to write a novel of worth. So boo to you "Jack Sheffield" which I very much doubt is your real name anyway. Why not change your pen name to Wally Burke or Herbert Longyawn? Much more appropriate.