Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Books I've read: Horse

I picked this up off the bookshelf at work a few months ago because I've read other books by Geraldine Brooks and enjoyed them.  I didn't read the blurb at the time, so I started reading it with very little idea what to expect.  And I was pleasantly surprised.

Set across multiple time-periods, the book is about a famous racehorse from the pre-Civil War era that was captured in several startlingly good portraits.  When a young art historian finds one of these portraits in a junk heap, he's intrigued by the appearance of Black men in the portrait, clearly caring for the valuable horse.  In a bid to find out more, he heads to the museum where he meets a scientist whose discovery of the horse's skeleton in storage has lead her on a journey of discovery.

That's the modern day story.

Intertwined with this story is the story of Jarrett, the Black groom and trainer, born into slavery, whose life was devoted to caring for this remarkable horse throughout his life.  And a third thread that follows an art dealer in the '50s who receives one of the paintings of the horse and tries to find it the perfect home even though she is more used to selling Jackson Pollocks than equine portraits.

I really enjoyed this book.  I had no idea that there were so many Black people involved in horse racing at the time or that they had such important roles.  That part of the story was probably the most interesting to me.  You hear so much about slaves who were treated badly, it was refreshing to read about slaves who were respected, given real responsibilities and encouraged to voice their opinions.

I'm also an art geek, so the story of the art dealer also tickled me.

So I'd definitely recommend this one.  It's a fascinating look at a part of history I knew nothing about, and was an enjoyable read at the same time.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse--one studying the stallion's bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Weekly Goals 26-2-24

 I made it through the opening weekend of the Festival.

It was busy and I did a lot of rushing around, but nothing major went wrong.  Well, apart from having to cancel the rest of the season of a show because some of the cast got sick. But even that went pretty smoothly.  I missed out on seeing the Akram Kahn dance company, but I did get to see Meow Meow which was an absolute hoot!  My face ached after the first half from laughing so much.

So my main goal this week is to try and get some sleep and to recover from the weekend.  The rest of the Festival is nothing like as crazy as that opening weekend that included the Writers festival - which I managed to see nothing of because of the timing of the events - so it should be very manageable.  I hope.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, February 23, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 23-2-24


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

The Festival officially opened yesterday after a few days of early shows to test the waters, so to speak.  It has gone well, despite a few glitches with things like ticketing systems and printers.  But nothing that has affected the audience experience (yet).

I'm tired though. It's been a long time between days off and a long time since I slept through the night.  I just need to get through the next couple of days of long hours and rushing about and then I'll get a day off.  Although I think I may have to spend that day off clearing through my emails!

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Books I've read: The Weight of Blood

This author is an insta-read for me ever since I read her book, Allegedly.  So when I saw this one in the library, I pounced.   Kind of a modern-day Carrie, the book jumps around through time as investigative journalists try to uncover what really happened at a Georgia high school prom.  A prom that ended with a town in ruins and several dead bodies.

Maddy is an outcast at her high school.  Her clothes are wrong, her ideas outdated and her repeated absences (always on rainy days) are explained away by a vaguely threatening auto-immune disease.  Maddy tolerates the low-key bullying because she has bigger things to worry about.

Until a rainstorm comes out of nowhere while she's outside running for PE and the secret she and her White religious fanatic father have been keeping for years is revealed: Maddy is bi-racial.  

When a video of the bullying and teasing Maddy receives as her secret comes out goes viral, some of her classmates get together to try and prove that their town isn't really as racist as it might seem on the surface.  For the first time the school will host an integrated prom - up until now, white kids went to the country club for prom while Black kids went somewhere else.

The girl who comes up with the idea even manages to convince her Black quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date to prom.  For the first time Maddy begins to wonder if she might be able to have a normal life, if she might be able to find genuine happiness in a world that has been nothing but cruel to her until now.

But Maddy has a secret. And when things at prom do not go as planned and a cruel prank is pulled on Maddy, she lets loose, leaving a trail of corpses in her wake.

I enjoyed this one.  There was enough supernatural spookiness to call it a horror, while it was grounded in reality and had a lot to say about racism and the difficulties faced by those trying to make a change to this way of thinking.  I do feel like Maddy's father was a little over the top, that his treatment of her seemed Victorian and made him into something of a cartoon villain.  But he isn't in the book that much...

So I'd recommend this one.

But don't just listen to me.  Her's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson ramps up the horror and tackles America's history and legacy of racism in this suspenseful YA novel following a biracial teenager as her Georgia high school hosts its first integrated prom.

When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation … Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she's dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High's racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their host the school's first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it's possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren't done with her just yet. And what they don't know is that Maddy still has another secret … one that will cost them all their lives

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Weekly Goals 19-2-24

 This is the week it all starts.  The Festival kicks off tomorrow with the first show, with the official opening on Friday.  This weekend is going to be the biggest and most stressful part of the whole thing, with shows at every one of our venues plus the Writers programme taking over a three-screen movie theatre for three days.

So this week my goal is to get through this opening week and weekend without any major drama.  There are two functions in the mix, alongside all the regular stuff that goes into running a Festival. I keep waking up at 2am and remembering things I haven't done yet and then thinking of more things I need to do.  Hopefully I can get through all these today and tomorrow morning, before I have to go and set up at the first venue..

What are your goals this week?

Friday, February 16, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 16-2-24


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  And we're almost through all the ticketing for the Festival!  I'm hoping to bash out the last of it this afternoon, before I go to the movies, and then it will just be the last minute stuff that comes through during the Festival itself.  Definitely not going to go into work on Sunday.

It all kicks off this week.  First show opens on Tuesday with the actual festival opening on Friday.  It's going to be a busy few weeks until it finishes on 17 March.  I may miss a blog post here and there, so if I'm not posting on my regular day, that's why.  It's going to be an amazing few weeks of art and culture.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Books I've Read: Now is Not the Time to Panic

I really enjoyed Kevin Wilson's previous book, Nothing to See Here (the one about the kid that spontaneously combust), so when I was doing an event at a bookstore last week and saw this, I knew I had to buy it.  I do not regret it.

Set in the present day and in 1996, the book is about a weird event that happened in a small town one summer and caused far-reaching repercussions.  It opens with a journalist calling a now-adult Frances Budge and asking questions about the summer in question.  Having never told anyone about it, Frances is terrified that the truth will come out and that it will shatter the life she's built for herself.

In 1996, sixteen-year-old Frankie is facing a long, lonely, boring summer in her small town.  The most exciting thing she can think of to do is to write her subversive Nancy Drew fan fiction in which Nancy is the perpetrator of the crimes.  But then she meets Zeke.

Zeke is an artist who is only in town for the summer while his parents decide whether or not to divorce after Zeke discovers his father is having an affair.  As lonely as Frankie, Zeke gravitates toward her and they are soon spending every day together.

An abandoned Xerox machine in Frankie's garage leads them to experiment with words and images until they come up with an enigmatic, yet strangely beautiful phrase that Zeke illustrates.  They make copies and hang them all over town.  At first people are curious, but not really afraid.  But as the summer goes on and these posters keep going up and spreading through the town like wildfire, rumours begin circulating: it's a satanic cult, it's a heavy metal band, it's a message from aliens...

As the summer goes on and different versions of the poster keep popping up, people become more and more unsettled and on edge.  Copycats proliferate. The entire town is on edge and soon this leads to tragedy.

I really enjoyed this story about the power of subversive art.  Frankie and Zeke were very real characters, dealing with their own problems and their own lives even as the thing they started blows up to be far bigger than both of them.  

It's also a book about the power of an unsolved mystery and the lengths people might go to to find the truth.  And how that truth can be both bigger and less meaningful than you might ever have thought.

The book is also very funny...

So I'd definitely recommend it.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here comes an exuberant, bighearted novel about two teenage misfits who spectacularly collide one fateful summer, and the art they make that changes their lives forever.

Sixteen-year-old Frankie Budge—aspiring writer, indifferent student, offbeat loner—is determined to make it through yet another sad summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, when she meets Zeke, a talented artist who has just moved into his grandmother’s unhappy house and who is as lonely and awkward as Frankie is. Romantic and creative sparks begin to fly, and when the two jointly make an unsigned poster, shot through with an enigmatic phrase, it becomes unforgettable to anyone who sees it. The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.

The posters begin appearing everywhere, and people wonder who is behind them. Satanists, kidnappers—the rumors won’t stop, and soon the mystery has dangerous repercussions that spread far beyond the town. The art that brought Frankie and Zeke together now threatens to tear them apart.

Twenty years later, Frances Eleanor Budge—famous author, mom to a wonderful daughter, wife to a loving husband—gets a call that threatens to upend everything: a journalist named Mazzy Brower is writing a story about the Coalfield Panic of 1996. Might Frances know something about that? And will what she knows destroy the life she’s so carefully built?

A bold coming-of-age story, written with Kevin Wilson’s trademark wit and blazing prose, Now Is Not The Time to Panic is a nuanced exploration of young love, identity, and the power of art. It’s also about the secrets that haunt us—and, ultimately, what the truth will set free.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Weekly Goals 12-2-24

 With this being the last week before we start actual production on the Festival, once again my goals are all largely work-related - as they will be until mid-March now.  I'm going to be too busy for anything else.

This week I want to make sure all the ticketing is done, apart from any last-minute things that might come through, and I want to make sure we have everything set up and in place for the two functions we're hosting during the Festival.  We're struggling a little with having enough staff over the opening weekend, so I may have to shuffle a few people around to make sure we have the right people in the right places at the times we need them.  It would be very useful to have a clone or two at this point as there is one day I'm looking at working across three venues from 7am until 11pm.  

Luckily, after the opening weekend, things are much calmer and easier to manage.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, February 9, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 9-2-24


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

I'm not sure I am celebrating this week.  I've been so snowed under at work, I haven't had the chance to think much about anything else.  I'm hoping to get a day off over the weekend, but I'm not sure that's going to be possible.  We'll see how much I can get done on Saturday afternoon.

I've had a few more query rejections and am starting to wonder if maybe I need to do some work on the query to see if I can make it more compelling.  I'm not quite at the number I usually advise people to start tweaking at, but it seems like things have changed a bit since I was last querying. But that's going to have to wait until after the Festival.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

IWSG: February 2024

 It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

The awesome co-hosts for the February 7 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, SE White, Victoria Marie Lees, and Cathrina Constantine!

This month's question is a good one...

What turns you off when visiting an author's website/blog? Lack of information? A drone of negativity? Little mention of author's books? Constant mention of books?

For me, the bigger turn off is not really about the content so much as the design.  So many writer blogs are built in Blogger templates (my own included) that have been customised by the author in really terrible ways.  Coloured fonts on coloured backgrounds are one of my biggest peeves.  If you want someone to read your blog, make it easy to read.  if I visit a blog and find the text in purple on a lime green background, I'm not going to stick around long enough to know if your content is good or not.

The other thing that bugs me is people who try to do too much in a single post.  If you're doing an author interview, do that in one post.  If you're talking about a bookstore visit, make that a single post.  If you're reviewing a book you read, make that a single post.  Some bloggers seem to like to post once a week and stuff everything into one long, confusing, rambling mess.  

If you have that much to talk about, maybe post more often.  You can still do the work one a week, just schedule those posts for different days so readers aren't faced with scrolling endlessly down the screen looking for the part of the post that they're interested in.

If you've got an author website, make sure your contact details are on there.  It doesn't matter if you're published or not.  If someone wants to get hold of you, make sure that information is there for them. If I'm looking for an author to feature in an article or interview, if I can't find a way to contact them easily, I'm going to move on, regardless of how much I enjoy the content on their blog, or their books.

I could keep going, but this is getting long, and maybe rambly, so I'll stop before I become my own pet peeve...

What do you dislike about blogs and websites you visit?

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Weekly Goals 5-2-24

 This week my goals are all work related - and not my own work.

I want to get all the partnership tickets sent out this week because that will take a huge amount of pressure off me and will allow me to help my colleague with some of the other, smaller orders we have to get out.  I went into work yesterday afternoon and got a bunch done, so I think if I go in tomorrow when no one else is there again, I can probably smash out the rest.  It just means I don't get my day off...  But I think that's a small sacrifice to make for getting more sleep.

I also want to make sure all the details of the functions are finalised this week.  I have the rooms and tech booked, and the caterer is aware of them, but I need to actually pick menu items and lock everything in this week.  And arrange with the suppliers when to pick up booze and stuff.  Luckily we do have an extra person in the office at the moment to help with these things.

And if I get a chance, I'd like to send out a couple more queries, but if that doesn't happen, then it's not the end of the world.  I think I still have 10 out there...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, February 2, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 3-2-24


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been a crazy busy week and I am exhausted.  I actually went to bed at 8pm last night!  Admittedly, I had been to a gig the night before.  And I haven't been sleeping well because there is so much to do and not enough hours in the day to do everything.  I decided while tossing and turning and worrying about all the work I have to do in the next to weeks that I will just go into work on Sunday afternoon and on Tuesday (which is a public holiday) and try to smash out some of the stuff I need to get through while the office is empty and quiet.  It's kind of the only way all these people who need tickets are going to get them.

I haven't received any more query rejections (although weirdly, I did just get a rejection from a publisher I'd sent Standing Too Close to in 2022) so that's good.  I know it's probably because most of the agents haven't reached my query yet, but there's still a chance...

And that's about it for me. I'm too tired to celebrate much.  If I could get more than 4 hours sleep a night I'd celebrate that, but that doesn't seem to be a thing right now.

What are you celebrating this week?