Book review: As If I Were A River by Amanda Saint

This novel is an intriguing and thought-provoking read. From the beginning it’s like being followed by a blowing crisp packet; you know there is something behind you, and don’t know whether to feel scared or not.

The opening premise is the disappearance of Jimmy, husband of Kate, our main protagonist. As Kate’s life quickly unravels, she questions everything she believes and values, and starts digging away at a past mired in secrets and lies.

The story is narrated by three protagonists, spanning three generations. The main characters are well-drawn and believable (no ‘good-egg’ saccharine heroines between Amanda Saint’s pages) and like the river in the apt title, the story ebbs and flows, sweeping the past into the present and beyond.

This book defies categorisation – and much of its power lies in its originality. I liked it – a lot.

It’s Monday morning and I’m back in the gym

Last week, due to a good friend being in considerable need, my usual routine got derailed. It was no big deal; I’m self-employed, child free and although life is full, and generally fast-paced, when it comes to time-management, I can be more flexible than most.

So instead of toiling at my desk, writing and editing for several hours a day, I was outside in the glorious autumn sunshine, walking two beautiful and achingly grateful dogs for my friend, so that she could focus on more pressing issues. As someone who adores dogs and appreciates nature’s myriad gifts, I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it. Rodney, my own doddery old pooch struggles to get round the block these days, so striding out – wind in hair – was a joy.

So it’s fair to say that writing and editing took a hit. But the thing that slipped completely from my agenda was going to the gym. By now, you might be thinking – so what? Surely taking a few brisk walks a day is better than pounding a treadmill, or performing any number of lunges, squats and crunches? Well, yes – and no. Better for the soul; hell yeah. But better for the abs and the old carcass, generally? Not so much.

When I turned 40, someone gave me a card that said, ‘after 40 – it’s all about maintenance’; as someone who has notched up more significant birthdays since then, I can vouch for that! For me personally, going to the gym forms an important cornerstone of maintaining wellness. Sorry for using the ‘icky buzzword du jour, but keeping well is what it’s about; remaining spry, strong and supple. Vanity also plays a major role – even older women are judged on their appearance – but keeping everything in the right place and for longer can be a full time job in itself. And when I say judged – we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

If a woman looks after herself and has the temerity to look great for her age, she’s deemed vain and obsessive and is accused of ‘having work done’; if she dares to let nature takes its course, dispensing with the hair dye, exercise routine, and the dark arts of cosmetic enhancement – she’s ‘let herself go’.

You can’t win. So why try? Just do what makes you happy. For me, that means keeping it all together for as long as possible.

And what do you do…?

This morning while I was walking Rodney, I bumped into another dog-owner; I’ll call her Sophie. She’s a lovely lady – very friendly, and we chatted for a while about our dogs, the weather, and that Sophie was late for work. I said; “Me too, I really need to knuckle down today.” Then Sophie asked me what I do.

This question always causes me a degree of consternation and embarrassment, because what I do, and what I am does not necessarily marry up. For instance, I am editing my first novel, and writing my second. But am I a novelist? No – absolutely not. At least not until I have published one of them. So I usually mutter something about being a copywriter – and that much is true; for several years, businesses have paid me to come up with words on their behalf.

But today, I found myself curiously and unusually forthcoming – and confessed to Sophie that I was writing a book. “Oh, that’s interesting. What’s it about?” she asked, reasonably. Hmmm; another tricky question. It’s nice when people take an interest, but I find it hard to give them a satisfying soundbite in return. So I usually say (cryptically, I admit) “Oh, it’s about real life and ordinary folk.” If pressed further, I then tell them it is about a dysfunctional collection of people, who live on a modern housing estate much like the one I live on (Sophie too, for that matter). At which point, I am highly adept at switching the focus back to the other person and moving swiftly on.

I can’t help but feel sheepish when I admit to writing fiction – partly because I’ve had some very funny reactions in the past. One lady said; “Ah, bless you – it’s nice to have a little hobby…I’ve got my colouring books.”

Now I’m not knocking adult colouring books, but I don’t think it is comparing apples with apples. Surely colouring books are supposed to be relaxing, and there’s nothing relaxing about trying to dream up new characters, settings and plotlines – or worse, sweating over a blank page when all inspiration deserts you.

Perhaps when I publish my first book (which happily is looking like a distinct possibility), I will feel more equipped to deal with the question; what do you do? Until then, don’t be surprised if when you ask, I start wittering about how my hydrangeas came up blind this year, or about it being time for Rodney’s flea treatment…

September is a joyful month

blackberries

This morning, well before six, I open my eyes to an (almost) audible click. September has arrived.

Wonderful, mellow September; a treasured month when we can still enjoy the warmth of a gentle sun, yet overnight the light adopts a golden hue, and the earth becomes drenched in elegant new perfumes that delight our senses. In September, nature’s bounty goes into overdrive. The heady scents of blackberry, elaeagnus and wild strawberries jostle in the hedgerows, competing with myriad fungi that burst through the soil so fast – stand still long enough and you’ll see them growing at your feet.

Even the dry, pungent smell of rotting fallen fruit in the orchards and fields has its own allure – a sense of nature’s goodness returning to the earth in its rightful and endless cycle.

But September isn’t only for gardeners and nature lovers. For many of us, it brings a new energy and creativity – and a new resolve after the hazy, lethargy of summer. And, whether you’re 7 or 57, the ‘Back to School’ mood can be a powerful thing; galvanising us – pushing us towards our goals, with gentle but firm hands, without the tired resignation or the hectoring tone that New Year brings.

From our house to yours, we wish you a happy and joyful September.