Book review 2015

This isn’t really a New Year’s resolution – I already read plenty, mostly to keep my commute on the train interesting. It’s more one of the fun parts of reading is talking about it afterwards which I don’t get to do much so I thought blogging about them regularly might help. Also it might serve as a bit of a memory aid when looking over the books I’ve enjoyed this year.

So as is expected at this time of year here’s some of the books I enjoyed in 2015.

Book highlights 2015 | Photo: Macmillan and Picador

Book highlights 2015 | Photo: Macmillan and Picador

I read a huge amount, mostly fiction, but the odd autobiography popped in this time round, and for the first time in a while I read a mix of real books, books on my Kindle and books from the library.

I’ve loved picking up library books as it allowed me to trial books which I probably wouldn’t have if I was parting with money. For instance a guilty pleasure of mine is Jenny Colgan’s chick lit which I would never have thought to buy, with their saccharine titles like ‘Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams’ or ‘The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris’. But thanks to the library I’m certain I’ve now read her entire back catalogue in a year.

Chris Hadfield’s ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ was another library recommendation, covering his career and family life in the run up to his time on the International Space Station. I was initially put off as I always thought I wasn’t a fan of space and the science behind it. I realised this was incredibly silly of me.

Chris Hadfield will mostly be remembered for singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oditty‘ in space, but he’s also the first Canadian to walk up there. The sheer amount of training they have to do is amazing and because so few people go to space its still all on a bit of a wing and a prayer. It’s also interesting to see what impact this career has on an astronaut’s family such as, spending a lot of time without them, the risks as well as the fun parts.

I also love the attitude that astronauts develop when they see just how tiny Earth is compared to the whole universe, so political feuds mean nothing to them.

Basically all this means I am excited to learn more about current Brit in space, Tim Peake. I mean you can now even tweet in space!

Other book highlights include ‘Hiroshima’ by John Hersey and Jon Ronson’s brilliant So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’. I also reread ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf. At it’s most basic it’s about a man becoming a woman. I read it first when I was a teenager and thought it enjoyable but didn’t really get the full impact until now, especially this passage.

And it would be a shame not to include Count Arthur Strong’s memoirs ‘Through it all I’ve Always Laughed’. The fictional entertainer is already one of my TV and radio favourites and hopefully these lines about botox and Cliff Richard explain why: “It would be dreadful if they got the syringes mixed up and you ended up with Cliff Richard’s buttocks in your face. I wouldn’t know where to put myself. I mean I like ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, but I wouldn’t want his buttocks in my face.” Still makes me laugh like a banshee.

There’s been a few clunkers, some from the library where the blurb didn’t match my expectations and Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ is taking longer than I expected. But the one book I just couldn’t finish this year was ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’. I couldn’t get into or excited enough about the plot to carry on with it.

I didn’t really stop reading over the holidays, now currently working my way through the Poldark series. I’ve got a stack of books already waiting, and I’m keen to read some Dickens and Sherlock thanks to Christmas telly. And I’ll see how it goes from there – catchup at the end of January.

Photos: Sheffield at Christmas

While admiring the decorations in London, it’s always nice to appreciate the ones a bit closer to home. These decorations aren’t new but the variety of lights across the city centre are fun. I especially like the projections of snowflakes across the Town Hall building.

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Photos: London at Christmas

It’s always fun to be a tourist in London, especially near Christmas time. I haven’t been to the capital for a while so it was nice to just wander around and take photos.

I went to the store Liberty for the first time and I found the building absolutely beautiful. While in that part of the city I also explored Carnaby Street and went in my new favourite cupcake shop in Kingly Court. While all the time finding lots of pretty lights and decorations.

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My charity swimathon

Well… I’ve decided to try doing something a bit different. One Sunday in March next year I’m going to swim 5k (in one go) for charity.

Ponds Forge Photo: Jason Parrish

Ponds Forge Photo: Jason Parrish

I’ve never been that sporty but since living near Ponds Forge in Sheffield I’ve had less excuses. So about two years ago I started lane swimming, something I hadn’t done for about ten years. After a few sessions and realising that I was actually doing doggy paddle rather than a stroke I started to get better.

I’m still nowhere near professional, but now when we go on holiday we tend to go somewhere with a pool. On this year’s break I started doing about 3k every day and getting into a nice rhythm. So I looked up swimming challenges and signed myself up for one, knowing that I wouldn’t have to make the final decision until the end of the year.

Earlier this week I finally got the email about registering. After being enticed by half price entry for early sign up and a few encouraging words from friends I decided to go for it.

It’s a long distance, I’ll be doing 200 lengths in the pool on the day. I guess the next step is figuring out some sort of training regime, I might even come up with a target time.

As I’ve mentioned it’s for charity – this particular event is a Swimathon event held at Ponds Forge all in aid of Sport Relief. If you’re interested here’s a link to my sponsorship page.

Currently I’m a bit shocked, and distractedly thinking it’s still about four months away. I’m also aware that it’ll no doubt come up really quickly.

Learning to talk again

Some stories it’s clear what the news story is and how you want to tell it to others, sometimes you have to spend a little longer thinking about it.

The other week I was sent to a music workshop for people who’ve had strokes, it’s a new approach helping people in Lincolnshire learn how to speak again. I was introduced to the Sound Lincs group in Navenby while they were still happily singing pop songs. While one of the staff told me about some of the stories behind the people there. I came to realise that all the families had been through a lot.

One of the problems was that people were incredibly keen to share their stories but as they struggled with their speech it was hard for me to include them in my radio package. In fact I spent about an hour talking to all the people in the group and knew I was going to have to cherry pick all the best bits to get the greatest impact.

In a brief amount of time I found out how people coped with learning to speak again, from the sad moments to the everyday moments. For some it meant bringing music into their lives for the first time, and for others it was a good way to bring back something normal back into their lives that they loved before having a stroke.

I also wanted to make sure that someone explained just how people could sing 80s ballads word perfect while still stuggling to talk. It’s all quite complex, but put simply it seems another part of the brain is responsible for singing and another part is used for speech.

It was quite daunting to think that this encounter needed to be summed up to a listener in around about a minute long package. Also people had trusted me with their stories and I wanted to be able to tell them authentically. On top of that I didn’t want it to be gloomy, it is of course a serious subject but the people I’d met where optimistic.

To help make the piece more upbeat I used recordings of the group singing. I always knew I wanted to end with them singing The Proclaimers, as it’s the group’s favourite. I also used the singing as a chance to introduce some of the serious things the group members were explaining about having a stroke. Hopefully this made it both an interesting start to the package but also allowed the listener to reflect on some of the serious aspects of it too.

Basically it was a great opportunity where others were eager to tell me about what they’d been through, and I saw it as a chance to best tell even more people about this remarkable group.

Here’s the package that went out in the Lincs FM news bulletins.

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Photos: Nottingham trip

We ventured far for our holiday this year… Nottingham. However, it’s a city we’ve never really explored before so why not? We went round the castle, saw Robin Hood and went for a pint at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.

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Princess Anne in Lincoln

It’s a big year for Lincoln as the city celebrates 800 years of the Magna Carta. It’s important for the area as the Cathedral has one of four remaining copies of the historical document. Until recently it was just displayed in part of the castle but a decision was made to invest in these beautiful parts of Lincoln and so started 10 years of work.

There’s now a dedicated vault in the castle grounds for the Magna Carta which opened earlier this year. Then to mark the occaision it was officially opened a few months later by Princess Anne.

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As well as being a chance to show the best of Lincolnshire to royalty it was also a chance for lots of people to come together and celebrate the area.

We covered the event throughout the day on our news bulletins on Lincs FM. We started off by having some copy in our bulletins but once I was in the castle grounds recorded a voicer on my smartphone which I sent back to the office. This was then used in the bulletins to help give listeners an idea of how the event was building up.

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I only had about an hour to interview lots of people before the Princess arrived in the grounds and security protocols kicked in. I used this time to vox plenty of people who were at the event to find out the local reaction.

I then spoke to lots of people who had been involved in the project as well as local dignatries. All of these were sent back so the team had lots of different interviews to use and reflect how the event was moving on. I was also making sure to record lots of sounds, clapping and speeches so I had lots of bits of audio to play with to make a package.

Then I had a chance to just enjoy the event and the excitement of Princess Anne arriving. At this point I made sure to take plenty of photos and also tweet the news on the station’s Twitter account.

Then as they were enjoying their tour of the castle I went back to the office to assemble my package. I looked up what the team had already used of my audio. I then built a simple story that I wanted to tell in my package, only using the best bits of my interviews and recordings.

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It was really interesting to cover this event, not only was it an important day for Lincoln it was also a chance to be creative. More importantly it was good to work with the rest of the team, providing them with good quality interviews to help them out with news bulletins whilst out reporting. It was also great to think of the story beyond just what was going out on the station and remember the importance of social media too.