Posts Tagged "books"

Joanne Harris: Changing The World One Story at a Time

Posted by on Jul 12, 2014

  “You don’t write because

someone sets assignments!

You write because you need to write,

or because you hope someone will listen

or because writing will mend something

broken inside you or

bring something back to life.” 

Blackberry Wine

Author Joanne Harris describes the Butterfly Effect of a story she once read in a dentist’s waiting room, which would help save lives decades later, half way across the world.

She  has always had a particular interest in the power of words, having been brought up with French as a first language among a Yorkshire family who spoke no French and a Breton family who spoke no English.  

She considers the inconsistencies in the ways we are taught to regard the power of words, and the power of story telling in our lives. She also shares shares the wisest thing she has ever been told.

Joanne achieved world wide recognition with her third novel, the award-winning Chocolat which translated into the hugely popular film starting Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Since then, all her books have been best sellers in the UK.

Joanne Harris is a patron of the charities Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and Plan UK, and has travelled to Togo and to the Congo to report on their work. An account of her visit to the Congo was published in Writing on the Edge, a collection of essays by noted literary figures, with photographs by Tom Craig, in 2010. She has also donated short stories to a number of charity anthologies, notably Piggybank Kids, the Woodland Trust, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Breast Cancer UK.

In 2013 she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. 


Stories featured in the following anthologies:

  • Magic (2002)A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Bosom Buddies (2003)A collection of stories in aid of Breast Cancer UK.
  • Journey to the Sea (2005)A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Mums – a Celebration of Motherhood (2006)A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Dads – a Celebration of Fatherhood (2007)A collection in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • In Bed With… (2009)A collection of erotic stories by well-known female writers.
  • Because I am A Girl (2010)Charity anthology in aid of Plan UK.
  • Stories (2010) A collection of fantasy tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio.
  • Writing on the Edge (2010): A collection of eyewitness

Awards and Honours

Harris’ books are now published in over fifty countries and have won a number of UK and international awards, including:

  • Chocolat: Creative Freedom Award (2000); Whittaker Gold Award (2001). Shortlisted: Whitbread Novel of the Year Award (2000), Scripter Award (2001); film version nominated for 8 BAFTAs and 5 Oscars.[7] Whittaker Platinum Award(2012).
  • Blackberry Wine: 2000 Winner of both the Foreign and International categories of the Salon du Livre Gourmand (France).
  • Five Quarters of the Orange: Shortlisted: 2002 RNA Novel of the Year; Author of the Year 2002; WHSmith Award 2002 (UK).
  • The French Kitchen: (a cookbook with Fran Warde): 2005 Winner of the Golden Ladle for Best Recipe Book (softcover) in the World Food Media Awards.[8]
  • Gentlemen & Players: Shortlisted for the Edgar Award, 2007 (USA)[7] and the Grand Prix du Polar de Cognac (France).[9]
  • Flavours of Childhood: (a piece co-written for the Radio 4 series First Taste with poet Sean o’Brien) Winner of the Glenfiddich Award, 2006.[10]

In 2004, she was a judge for the Whitbread Prize (now the Costa), and in 2005, was a judge for the Orange Prize.[11]

In 2013 she was on the judging panel of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science [12] and chaired the Desmond Elliott Prize.[13]

She is the holder of honorary doctorates in literature from the University of Huddersfield and the University of Sheffield, and is an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.


She works from a shed in her back garden [15] and is active on Twitter, where she is known as @joannechocolat, and tumblr, ( ) which she uses, along with her website’s message board, to answer questions from her fans. She is married, and lives in Yorkshire with her husband Kevin and daughter Anouchka.

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Maya Angelou: The Song Bird Flies

Posted by on May 28, 2014

I’ve learned that people will forget

what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget

how you made them feel.

— Maya Angelou —


Maya Angelou, a voice that inspired generations through powerful prose and poetry and the light of a fiery and shining soul, has died at the age of 86. 

Like thousands of others, I discovered the power of  Maya Angelou’s writing when I came across  the book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” – seven words that I couldn’t get out of my head, and never left my heart. Why would someone put something as beautiful and free as a bird into a cage? And why would a caged bird choose to sing?

Three year old Maya and her brother Bailey Junior were sent  to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas after their parents divorce. Maya spent 10 years discovering what it was like to grow up in one of America’s poorest regions with all the prejudice and racial segregation of the Deep South (such as the white dentist who refused to treat Maya’s rotting teeth, even when reminded by her grandmother that she had lent him money during the Depression).

Maya was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St Louis, Missouri on 4 April 1928 and the name Maya originated from her brother’s way of saying “My-a sister”.

The Silent Voice
At the age of 7, when visiting her mother in St Louis, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. When she told her family what had happened, the man was arrested, tried and released, but was murdered shortly afterwards. For the next five years, Maya Angelou didn’t speak:

“When I heard about his murder, I thought my voice had killed a man and so it wasn’t safe to speak.
“After a while, I no longer knew why I didn’t speak, I simply didn’t speak.”

During her silence, she read incessantly and was eventually persuaded to speak again by Mrs. Bertha Flowers, “the aristocrat of Black Stamps” who encouraged her reading, and recognising her love of poetry told her that to be fully experienced, poetry had to be read aloud. “You will never love poetry until you actually feel it come across your tongue, through your teeth, over your lips.”



Maya Angelou went on to have an extraordinary career which she writes about in her books, including becoming San Francisco’s first female cable car conductor at 15, the experience of being a young mother at 16, time as a dancer, waitress, prostitute, actor and singer, travelling around Europe and Africa with the Opera Porgy and Bess, her involvement with the civil rights movement, working with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and experiencing the trauma of both their assassinations – King was killed on her birthday.

She writes of falling in love with South African civil rights activist Vusuma Make and moving to Cairo with him, practicing as a journalist in Egypt and later in Ghana during the time of decolonisation, her son’s car accident and the years after her return to the US in 1965 and her decision to start writing “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.

Other autobiographical books that followed the Caged Bird include
“Gather Together in My Name “(1974),
“Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” (1976),
“The Heart of a Woman” (1981),
“All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” (1986), 
“A Song Flung Up to Heaven” (2002), and
“Mom & Me & Mom” (2013, at the age of 85).

Maya Angelou used the same “writing ritual” for many years and described her writing process as regimented.

The Ritual involved getting up at five in the morning and booking into a hotel room where the staff have been instructed to remove all pictures from the walls. She has a bottle of sherry, a deck of playing cards, a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and the Bible, and she writes on legal pads.

She places herself back in the time she is writing about, even when traumatic and plays solitaire she says to reach a place of enchantment and access her memories more effectively. “It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!”. It is not the process which she finds cathartic but rather the relief that she finds in “telling the truth”.

“I try to get there around seven, and work until around two in the afternoon … Maybe after dinner I’ll read to [my husband, Paul du Feu] what I have written that day. He doesn’t comment. I don’t invite comments from anybody but my editor.”

Angelou has credited African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar along with Shakespeare for inspiring her “writing ambition” and the title of her first book comes from Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.”

I know why

the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised

and his bosom sore,

When he beats his bars

and would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends

from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward

to Heaven he flings –

I know why

the caged bird sings.

— Paul Laurence Dunbar —





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Sarah Lewis: The phenomenon of the near win.

Posted by on May 6, 2014

 “We thrive when we stay at our

own leading edge.”

Art historian Sarah Lewis was surprised while working at the Museum of Modern Art, to discover the regular discrepancy between an artist’s view of much of their work and the way it was perceived by the public.
 “How many times have we designated something a classic – a masterpiece even, while its creator considers it hopelessly unfinished, riddled with difficulties and flaws.”

These contrasting views of success inspired her to explore what motivates people to work towards mastery in their pursuits, and how they evaluate their progress. Cezanne, she reminds us, “so often felt  that his works were incomplete that he would leave them aside with the intention of picking then back up again, but at the end of his life, the result was that he had only signed ten percent of his paintings”. 

Franz Kafka was so critical of his work that he wanted all his notes, diaries and sketches burned upon his death.

“Mastery is not just the same as excellence though. It’s not the same as success which I see as an event, a moment in time and a label that the world confers upon you. Mastery is not a commitment to a goal but to a constant pursuit…”

Sarah Lewis’s book “The Rise” was published earlier this year.

“It is one of the enduring enigmas of the human experience: many of our most iconic, creative endeavors—from NobelPrize-winning discoveries to entrepreneurial inventions and works in the arts—are not achievements, but conversions, corrections after failed attempts.

The gift of failure is a riddle. Like the number zero, it will always be both the void and the start of infinite possibility. The Rise—part investigation into a psychological mystery, part an argument about creativity and art, and part a soulful celebration of the determination and courage of the human spirit—makes the case that many of our greatest achievements come from understanding the importance of this mystery. “

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Good Books Change Lives

Posted by on Jul 9, 2012

Books can be entertaining, educational, escapist and sometimes life-changing.

There is even an online bookshop that will ensure that the next book you read (that is bought via their bookshop) will be life-changing – if it doesn’t change your life, it will definitely be helping to change someone else’s life.. for the better.

Good Books works together with Oxfam so all profits from their books go to funding Oxfam projects. It also gives its customers free international delivery

This charitable website is called and they explain the simple concept behind their project:

“The Good Books model is simple. Every time anyone buys a book through the Good Books website, 100% of the retail profit from every sale goes to support communities in need through Oxfam projects”

As a result, charitable donation is built into an everyday activity at no extra cost.

No one at Good Books is paid and we have zero operating costs. All time, professional services and resources are donated.

Good Books is about creating positive and enduring connections between commercial worlds and wider, less advantaged communities. Rather than fight a system that privileges a few over many, we wanted to transform it from within to constructive effect. Now, each time you buy a book through us you challenge traditional barriers that prevent commercial involvement in reducing poverty.”

Good Books “Metamorphosis” from Antfood on Vimeo.

This video by creative Agency Antfood uses two main sources of inspiration – the wonderfully evocative imagery that well crafted words on a page can conjour up in our minds, (in this case stepping into Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) and the paradigm shift that people like those at Good Books are working to promote – that commercial activity need not be exclusively about maximising profits to benefit a few, but can have a direct role in ending poverty and creating a better life for all.

“We dug through the darkest recesses of our minds and studio to create original music and sound design for this Buck masterpiece.  Working with squirming, analog-tape leeches, moaning coeds, screaming guitar goats, and brain-exploding psychedelia, we were certainly in our element.  Plus, it’s always fun to rock out and get a little weird for a good cause!”

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