Well, dear reader: I’m back. I took a two-week break for a couple of reasons. The first reason is I went overseas and I’ll tell you about that in another post. The second reason was I decided to see what it was like to be totally offline. For two weeks. No mobile phone. No laptop. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Pinterest (this was hard as I’m totally obsessed with Pinterest).

But you know: being offline was actually great. A relief really. I do enjoy blogging and the whole Internet thing but sometimes it’s just great to disconnect and read some books. In fact, I read five books and here they are:

The Bees by Laline Paull. Although not my cup of tea, this is a stunning debut novel by an established playwright. It’s an imaginative tale of a brave herione, Flora 717. A lowly sanitation worker in an orchard bee hive that is ruled by ancient laws and strict social hierarchy, Flora dares to challenge the Queen’s fertility. Her strength of character and maternal instinct bring her into conflict with the hive’s high priestesses. What results is a suspenseful tale of jealousy and sacrifice that make powerful connections between the bees’ natural laws and those of our human world.

I read somewhere that this book has been described as Watership Down but with insects. I’m not really into books that have animal or insect characters and I wouldn’t say this book was a page-turner for me but still, it was a good read.

Paris Letters by Janice Mcleod. Now, this was a page-turner. An American copywriter chucks in her day job and discovers love and a new career in Paris. And the question she asks herself really resonated with me: how much money does it take to change your life? I love Paris and Mcleod’s adventures reminded me that this beautiful city is a city of layers, like a mille-feuille. I guess it’s a love story that is in the vein of Almost French. Paris Letters also reminded me to pick up The Artist’s Way again. I read this self-help book on creativity about 10 years ago, when I was writing a novel (yeah, well: still writing it). As suggested in The Artist’s Way, Mcleod kept a journal and this helped her to clarify what she really wanted to do in life. Eventually, she started her own business on Etsy, creating beautifully-illustrated letters from Paris inspired by artists like Percy Kelly.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. This is a well-researched book that takes a look at how the Luxury Brands manufacture their goods in China but oops, forget to tell the customer who pays through the nose for the latest It Bag. It’s a hard-hitting look at the contemporary fashion industry and how luxury (once the province of the wealthy elite) is now mass-market. This has led to a sacrifice of integrity and quality – luxury has lost its lustre (which is how we spell the word in NZ).

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. This is the debut novel I wish I could churn out. I think it’s been turned into a film starring Nicole Kidman. I literally couldn’t put the book down. It’s a fast-paced thriller about a woman who wakes up every morning but remembers nothing about who she is or her life. I actually guessed the ending half way through (after guessing something else first) but I didn’t mind because the execution of what is really a pretty simple plot is amazing. I wasn’t thrilled by the writing style but the author did manage to establish a very deep connection with the main character, Christine, and I think this makes the book cohesive and well-constructed.

You’re not going to pick up this book for a happy read because it’s quite dark and disturbing. It reminds us how we are defined by our memories.

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter. Hold the phone people!! (does anyone but me actually say this anymore?!). AMAZING. I haven’t finished it yet but, from the first few pages, I was mesmorised by the writing style. A wonderful story about an American actress who escapes to a remote Italian village after filming Cleopatra in 1962. I don’t know if this has been made into a movie but heck, I could hear the soundtrack as I read the first few chapters. Under the layers of romanticism and beautifully-crafted sentences, lies a sharp social criticism. I’ve not heard of this American author before (what rock have I been living under?) but plan to read his other five novels pronto.

I didn’t read any of these books on a Kindle or any other e-book reader. Nope. I lugged around the books with me and I reckon polishing off five books in two weeks is impressive. It reminds me of how much I’ve missed reading and turning the pages of a book, anticipating the next scene. When living in Oz, I used to travel to work by train. It was a looooooong journey – 2.5 hours each way – so five hours per day sitting on my proverbial. I’d get on the train and enter another world – whatever world was offered up by the book I was reading.

Since moving to New Zealand and starting a new life with Zeph, Zsa Zsa and the horses, I barely have time to slap on the makeup these days let alone read. I plan to change this – we’ve turned off the TV (not that we watch that much because NZ TV is crap) and we both read in bed for an hour or so every night.

It’s inspiring my writing again and my resolve to find out whether I’m related to the Victorian author, Walter Matthew Gallichan. My grandmother was Ivy Elizabeth Gallichan and her family hailed from St Helier, Jersey where Walter Matthew was born. I believe that the surname Gallichan is reasonably common in Jersey so, knowing my luck, there’s no relationship but I can dream on LOL.

I’ve read his book Like Stars That Fall (1895) many times and I don’t understand why it wasn’t particularly successful. Although I suppose writing and publishing around the time of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens didn’t help. Probably Gallichan’s subject matter didn’t help either, given strict Victorian moral attitudes (wife abandons husband and daughter to perform on the stage and gets tangled up in a doomed love affair with someone above her station in life). Oh, I forgot to add that Like Stars That Fall was written under one of Gallichan’s pseudonyms: Geoffrey Mortimer.

I’m pretty sure that Like Stars That Fall was his only novel – he then went on to to write about travel, angling and sex education. I’ve tried for YEARS to get a paperback edition of this book with no success. I’ve had to suck up the digital version in PDF format.

If we are related (however, distantly) it would explain my penchant for writing. I wrote my first novel at the age of 12 (as you do). I’d just finished reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and go find it. It was published in 1940 (no, I didn’t read it then LOL) but it so affected me, I decided to write a novel too.

I can only remember the opening scene of my book – vulnerable young woman stares out the window of her second-storey apartment; early morning hours; she can’t sleep; it’s hot and sticky; she is fearful; she spots a mysterious man on the street below, lighting a cigarette. He is standing under a streetlight but his fedora hides his face. When the flash of the match illuminates his face….well, this is about as much as I remember.  Mmmm….maybe I should search my cobwebbed brain and see if I can dust this baby off!

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Walter Matthew Gallichan.

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