Author Archives: thewhitespike

Bring on 2016: Diamond Year

A lovely reflective and forward looking post.

Put it in Writing

              photo via Shutterstock © Love the Wind

I’m back at my desk today after a two week, festive season break from all things writing. I’m keen to get going on my 2016 writing plans and projects and to share these with readers of the blog as the year unfolds.

Yes, it’s going to be my diamond year, in the sense that it will be my sixtieth birthday in 2016 and I’m borrowing the ‘diamond’ tag from wedding anniversary classification. But more of that later.

But for this first post of the new year, I thought I’d pause to do a quick look back at 2015 first and then finish with how I intend to approach 2016.

The Year Just Ended

On a personal level, 2015 was the usual mix of ups and downs, both at the desk and in real life, but I’d definitely say the ups won and…

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I’m not a great fan of short stories preferring to read a long novel instead but, when I received an email from the publisher Myriad, announcing the release of a short story by Isabel Ashdown, I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in two sittings, I would have finished it in one, if I hadn’t fallen asleep.

A Quiet Winter, is the story of Sarah Ribbons, whom we met previously in another Ashdown novel: Hurry Up and Wait. I was a bit disoriented at first, enjoying being back in Sarah’s company but, wondering what part of her life we were at. Then it came back to me, the first book was written in flashback so actually we were sort of up to date with her. Believe me it’s not confusing, I’m just dense, I started reading: Hurry Up and Wait again, just to get me on the right track and I can’t put it down.

A Quiet Winter, is a beautifully written short story for a cold winters night, a bit sad and melancholy, Sarah’s dad having passed away two years previously but, it’s not depressing, with a character you wish you knew and were friends with. One day at work while checking her inbox, she receives an email from an old friend asking her if she would like to accompany him to their school reunion. It is a short story so it would be foolish to spoil it by giving anything away, just enjoy it. If you read: Hurry Up and Wait, I guarantee you will love this. And I wonder, in the future, if we will get to be in Sarah’s company again.

Lee Miller & Picasso

On a beautiful late summer’s day, Kathy and I took a trip into Edinburgh for the Festival. In amongst the street theatre and the flyer vendors, I came across a poster for an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Lee Miller & Picasso. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t solely a Picasso exhibition, I would love to see one of those, however this is a wonderful exhibition with over one hundred pictures by Miller; a portrait of her, by Picasso, and one of his large drawings. Not much of the festival or the fringe interested me this year, as usual I went looking for Shakespeare, not comedy Shakespeare or a sketch show based on as many characters from his plays as could fit on a stage, hilarious as the flyer person said it was, just didn’t capture my imagination. No matter where it is, whether it is during the Festival, an exhibition or not, walking into an art gallery, is always an exciting pleasure for me and I was not disappointed with this one, this exhibition.

Lee Miller first met Pablo Picasso in the South of France in the summer of 1937. She took over 1,000 pictures of the Spanish artist and he painted her portrait six times. The photos are spread out over four or five rooms and really bring the artist to life, with his incredible eyes and his sense of fun. To be in his company must have been a joy. I’ve never looked at Picasso so closely before but, now when I read about him, everyone talks about his eyes and his flamboyant lifestyle, with his studio filled with guests watching him work. Among them was Roland Penrose, a British artist and champion of Surrealism who was travelling with Miller when they met Picasso. Penrose is featured in a lot of the photos, they eventually got married, after divorcing other people and she became Lady Penrose. There are many shots of Picasso in his studio, with paintings, you half recognise, all around the walls. There is a great little section of the painter with his old friend and early cubism partner, Georges Braque; they both have amazing, piercing eyes as they gaze at the camera lens. As you stroll through the rooms you feel as if you are getting to know the painter more and more; with family and friends, surrounding him on holiday or at his studio. He was a little barrel chest, powerful looking man; somehow, I think he looks like a genius.

The exhibition also looks at the life of Lee Miller. She was a beautiful woman and you can understand why Picasso painted her portrait so many times, although the one hung at the gallery is a very abstract painting. It was a great thrill to get so close to it, where you see the brush strokes so clearly, you can see strands of hair just underneath the paint, I stared at it for a long time. The lines of her mouth you can see were done by two single curving brush strokes; you can see where he put the brush on the canvas and just swiped it round like the curves of a moustache with the paint tailing off in thinning dots. In her early life, Miller was a successful fashion model before moving to Paris and becoming a photographer. During the Second World War she worked for Vogue magazine as a war correspondent. There is a great photo of her dressed up like a GI, surrounded by soldiers in amongst the ruined buildings of war.

The exhibition finishes on the 6th of September, a few days to go. Maybe it’ll tour, if it does, I urge you to seek it out.

Thanks to Wikipedia for refreshing my memory of Lee Millers early career, there is a lot of information online about her and a few books. She was an extraordinary woman and worth more study, I am so glad I saw this exhibition.

Inside The Crocodile

I think: Inside The Crocodile, is the authors third travel book and memoir, all three are brilliant and very different. From the trek in the high mountains of Bhutan to the Easter celebrations on the island of Mogpog in the Philippines, Trish Nicholson has given us some wonderful insights into a world of colour and beauty, a world way of the beaten track and educated us in cultures we may never encounter in our own travels.

Inside the Crocodile is the story of her five years working on a project funded by the World Bank, in Papua New Guiney. She seems to have an impossible job, with all the politicians and the ever-changing work force and bosses but, she is a very resourceful woman. From island hopping in small aircraft, landing on jungle grass strips, to beach to beach reaching communities by motor boat, she is determined to get the job done. There is time for “fun” with her brilliant description of a harrowing jungle hike, with a traversing over the thundering River Strickland on a very flimsy and dangerous rope and vine bridge, while managing to drag along one of their co trekkers, who have come down with, what appears to be malaria.

Malaria will play a part as the whole story unfolds, when Trish, nearly dies, suffering a bad bout that has been creeping up on her as the years go by. I really enjoyed this memoir, it is beautifully written, with wonderful passages describing the jungle; the plants, birds and wildlife, a crocodile under a blackboard included.


I have just finished the novel, Any Human Heart by William Boyd. I can’t remember enjoying a book more, perhaps the last Faulks novel. It is a relief to have discovered Boyd’s work, I am hopeful he is going to bring me hours of reading pleasure in the future. The novel is about a man’s long life from the start of the twentieth century till his old age in the nineties. Logan Mountsturt is the son of a Scottish corn beef manufacturer and a Uruguayan mother, born in South America. The whole family move back to England, Birmingham and Logan goes to public school where he meets two boys, Benjamin Leeping who later on becomes a successful gallery owner, buying and selling works of art by painters such as Picasso and Klee. His other friend, Peter Scabius becomes a well known and successful thriller writer, who even gets a knighthood.

Logan is a writer and over the course of his life writes a few books and many articles and literary reviews. He marries a dukes daughter and they have a son, Lionel. He doesn’t enjoy life in the countryside and moves back to London to work and goes home in theory at the weekend. While working in London he meets and falls in love with Freya, a producer at the BBC. Freya eventually moves in with him and they have a long affair; all the time, Logan realises it can’t go on this way, and he must tell his wife to seek a divorce. I was in Waterstons the other day and found more of Boyd’s novels, I am going to savour these books, take my time with them. I know to well what it’s like waiting for a favourite author to realise their new novel, I may read one a year.

I have come to realise that a persons name can open up a new world to me, straight away I think of Bruce Springsteen. Way back I was aware of him and knew one or two of his early songs but, I always thought he had an interesting name, then after borrowing a copy from a friend, I bought Born To Run, at the time it must have been out for over a year. I’ve been a life long fan ever since. A name can float around in my head for a while before I pull it to the front of my brain and decide to make it reality.

Gertrude Stein is another evocative name. I came across her in a film: Midnight in Paris a lovely Woody Allen movie. I saw it ages ago and her name was planted in my subconscious. After visiting Paris, I was in the mood to watch it again, that brought her name into focus, this process seems to be something I am familiar with, Sylvia Plath is in my not so subconscious mind too and while I think about it, Virginia Woolf , what great names but, that’s for the future.

Gertrude Stein was played in the movie by Kathy Bates, she reads the main character book, played by a sort of time travelling, Owen Wilson, each night as the clock strikes midnight, he gets into an vintage car, a Peugeot I think, he meets various characters from the 30’s, F Scot Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda; Hemingway, a rhinoceros obsessed Dali and Pablo Picasso. Hemingway gives his manuscript for his novel to Stein, she reads it over a few nights and is a great help to him.

I thought she was a very interesting lady from that era in literary history, I looked her up, and was delighted to find she has written quite a bit, some biographies, notably one on Picasso, whom she knew well. Gertrude Stein will be my new project, I have only to choose which book to begin my study of her. I am debating with my inner self whether to post this on my blog, it’s been so long since I posted anything. I’m sure if I do it, I will get some suggestions from my readers who usually know about these things. These are much of my; favourite things, history, literature, films, art.

Footnote… The Merchant of Venice should be my next, Shakespearian post, I’m deep into the text and I have watched the DVD at least twice, I wish I could see it on stage though.


I was kindly sent an advanced copy of Flight by Isabel Ashdown. I’ve been really looking forward to her new book and was absolutely delighted to receive this early edition. A few years ago I downloaded her first two novels to my Kindle and really, just forgot all about them. They were called: Glasshopper and Hurry Up and Wait. Then she released her third book; Summer of 76 and I pre-ordered and bought the book, I much prefer reading an actual book. I enjoyed it so much that I hunted down my underused kindle and read the other two. I ended up reading the three novels in the course of about three months and I’m telling you that is lightning fast for me.

Flight is the story of Wren, Rob and Laura. On the first ever national lottery, Wrens numbers come up and after a little planning, she just up’s and leaves her husband Rob and their baby girl Phoebe and her best friend Laura.

Twenty years later, on the anniversary of the first lottery draw and without hearing a single word from her, Laura is telephoned by a reporter asking questions. Questions about Wren, about why she abandoned family and giving her information on where she now lives. At the same time, Rob gets an unexpected letter.

So begins a story I found hard to put down. It’s a story of friendship and love. Of loss and reunion. It is hard to say why Wren left her husband and newborn baby, I found it hard to condemn her. Was it postnatal depression? You have to make your own mind up. The book is written with wonderful descriptions’ of the Cornwall coast and a knowing insight into student life in London. The writing is so beautifully done, that when it moves from character to character, each one in a different chapter but, all of them, brought together within the chapters. It will keep the overall picture so vividly in your head. The love they have for each other is so brilliantly described and all her characters have been very well drawn.

I think these are special books; written by Isabel Ashdown, I think Flight may be best so far and that is saying something.

George Allan  5th of May 2015