Hearing Voices and The Goldfinch

One thing that all good writers do is … READ. Yep, we read .. lots.  Often it is because we were avid readers that we are also writers.

Before I start writing a new book I go on a reading spree of books that give me background and information. These are usually non-fiction and, when about complicated subjects, they may be the  populist versions so I can ‘get a handle’  on the topic, and follow up with more in-depth studies if required. Sometimes the book isn’t exactly what I wanted or was expecting, but I always finish it because nuggets of information get stored away and can, and do, pop into a story somewhere or another, or even merely inform a character’s belief or thought processes.
Then, while I am writing, I am always looking things up for reference, to get things right. Oh, and this is where the internet is wonderful… such a range of information at our fingertips. When I wrote my first (released) novel the internet didn’t exist and any research had to be done via the library or by asking people I knew who happened to have the expertise or knowledge I needed.

Writers read for pleasure too, of course, but here is the problem. If I am writing at the same time as reading a novel I have to be very careful not to pick up the ‘voice’ of the author.

The Author’s Voice is one of the things that differentiates authors one from another, it is also, sometimes, why someone will like to read a particular author.

The publishing world talk about the author’s voice a lot … and so when you find your own you do not want to muddy it with echoes of another

Th Goldfinch by Fabritius (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

So, it was useful that I was taking a break from writing to do a final proof of Nothing Ever Happens Here, before it is released as a paperback, when I started reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ as I fear that Donna Tartt’s voice would have infiltrated my writing far too much.

No spoilers here.. I really dislike reviews that ‘tell the story’.  The author has told you all they want you to know before you read, on the back of the book or the online description (this because I read it on kindle) see below:

“Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.”

My review:  I found this a rich and intense read. There is so much description that progress is frequently very slow, but what rich, embroidered, gilt-edged, magnified, textured, illuminated description it is. I doubt any new authors would be permitted to let such a work reach the reader. Is it too much? Many of the other reviewers have found it so. I revelled in the descriptions, while acknowledging their draw-backs. (I am a closet describer – I’d love to ‘go off on one’ and use such language – but it does not suit my style or my voice and, I suspect, would not suit my readers.) It is also ‘referenced’ to many other written works in subtle, and some not so subtle, ways. (I like this as I am partial to doing similar with my characters’ names, though noticing it was not necessary it was a bit like ‘getting an in joke’.) Did I enjoy the book?. To be honest, not as a story, but as an experience, yes.  Perhaps the setting being in the US did not resonate with me? Perhaps the lifestyle of the main character, Theo, did not feel believable enough?  I note I was more in tune with him when he was learning how to help restore furniture than at any other time. At no time did I have hopes or fears for him (or any of the other characters) despite there being plenty of reasons to have hopes or fears. The ending, I felt was a bit too much tell not show, with a pulling together of the handkerchief corners of philosophy, experience, life and death all into a bundle and handed to us by Theo. As a bonus it has made me, like many others, look up the painting that is at the centre of the story and appreciate it.

Have you read The Goldfinch? What did you think?

I am thinking of doing occasional book-reviews as a regular feature? Would you like to see these here on my blog .. or not?

Do let me know … I’d  love to hear what you think.



What’s the oldest item of clothing you still have?

I realise that the older you are – the better chance you have of having an old item of clothing.. so this isn’t a competition.

It was sparked by (yet) another clear out – that wasn’t much of one. I tried to sort out some clothes to chuck (to recycling or Salvation army – depending on quality) and I did take some along to the sally-army clothing bank … even dropped an item into a local charity shop ( yep, that good, but totally too big for me now and somehow got missed on the BIG-size clear out last year) but it really wasn’t that much.

If I look at something and think ‘I’m sure I’ll wear that again – even if only for bathing the dog in’ back on the hanger it goes. Then there are the memory pieces. I just can’t seem to chuck these as each time they evoke so many memories that I keep them like a pressed flower, or a memento of a loved one. IMG old clothes

There’s the stripy sailor-style T-shirt (VERY stripey – and horizontal stripes too!) That I was given in America when I was there doing a Summer Camp. Teaching in one, that is, not ‘going to camp’ there. I have remarked in passing before that it was at this camp that I GAINED over two stone ( yep, over 28lbs). Now it is quite wide 🙂 and the stripes don’t help, and you would think that I wouldn’t want to be reminded of that time… but I do. It was a huge adventure back in the early 1970s for a just 20 year-old. (somehow it just wouldn’t seem such an adventure now I think?)

From the same sort of era is my other ‘oldest’ item of clothing. It is a heavy-weight cheesecloth wrap-around maxi-skirt given to me by a friend. I’d borrowed it one day… and when I went to give it back she told me that if I liked it I could keep it. Liked it? I loved it.. loved the weight and sway of it. Why I really do not know now … it’s heavy but quite ordinary.  I tried it on when I ‘found’ it pressed into the furthest corner of the wardrobe.  It drags on the ground! At first I thought I must have shrunk more than I thought …. then I remembered that even our sandals had platforms on them at that time!!

The really oldest item I have is probably Victorian. It is a little velvet jacket with a fine fabric lining that I want to call ‘lawn’ though I have no idea if it is. It has tiny buttons at the wrist, and would never do up round me when I wore it. This I wore when at college of FE (sixth-form college) along with a home-designed and made velveteen skirt, suede fringed boots and seersucker shirts. The latter have all gone .. but this poor little thing, the stitches strained where sleeves meet back (never had a narrow back, me) still remains to remind me of that heady time when I first tried out my sartorial wings.

Some of these memories do not surface unless I see these items.. so I keep them. Yes they are clothes… but really they are more … from them spill memories, evocations of an era absorbed, things heard, seen, known about, if not experienced… and from this well I can draw for my Novels … much as I am doing with the new one I’m writing, set now but with echoes and reverberations from the seventies.

So – do you hoard some of your old clothes?

What are your reasons?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you!


When is a shoe not just a shoe?

Sounds like a riddle – or the first part of a not very good joke. In this case it is the question that goes with this picture.


This is a child’s shoe found in the stonework and mud filling of a building thought to be at least sixteenth century.

At first this seemed just a curious thing to find … then I did a little research. Shoes, it turns out, were often placed in the fabric of a building. Most usually near a door way or an opening (window, hearth) but not always, sometimes just placed there by the builder as they built the property.

The big question is ‘Why?’

Well there are many theories and I’ll pass on some that I have come across. To start with the concealed shoe, and it is nearly always just one,  is always well worn and frequently that of a child. One theory is that a shoe takes on something of the identity of the person who wore it – as it moulds itself to the wearer. That this identity or ‘soul’ within the shoe was the used as a spirit to ward off evil in general and witches in particular.

The spirit within the shoe would therefore guard the house and keep evil and witches at bay. The concealed shoes were therefore either hidden in the walls of the building, so no-one could remove them, or boxed in near an opening (that a witch or evil might try to enter through).

When life and death, through accident or illness, was pretty random and struck seemingly at will, superstitions were rife. Here was a way to protect your home and therefore your family – and easy enough to do. Even for the builders who placed them there, perhaps it gave them a sense that the building they made was protected.

Where did this odd idea come from?

No-one knows how this tradition began but in the UK it may have links the 14th century Rector of Marston in Buckinghamshire, who was said to have cast the devil into a boot, thus trapping him, or it may go back much further than this and may be more grisly ….

There is a long and murky history of blood sacrifices, usually of animals, being made to protect a house from evil, documented from as far back as the Romans.  Even the mark in blood made on the door post by the Israelites, when Moses was trying to get them released from servitude, that meant the angel of death passed over their homes, links into this superstition. Maybe a shoe is a simple and less drastic substitute.

Museum of shoes

In Northampton Museum, once the centre of shoe-making in the UK,  they have a collection of shoes. They also keep a concealed shoe index listing all those found and reported to them. At the moment the index stands at approximately 1,900 entries from all over the U.K and also records concealed shoe finds in North America, Canada, and a number of countries in Europe including France, Spain and Poland.


As an author I can’t help but lock these nuggets of information away, wondering when they will resurface in the plot of a novel. Somehow I feel this one is going to with the superstition and history it has all wrapped up in it!

 So the answer to the riddle …..  When is a shoe not just a shoe ….

 …… when it is an insurance policy

 Was the idea of concealed shoes new to you?

Have you ever found something like this?

What tickles your creative bones and makes you start to think and wonder?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.


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