Thursday, 23 March 2017

Book Group Notes: Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Literary Lady’s Book Group Guides are designed to generate discussion at your book group or as a way of enhancing your own reading experience. The discussion points offer a ‘route’ through the book but don’t feel you need to stick too rigidly to it if an interesting topic comes up that needs further discussion!

About the Book:

At the heart of Atonement is a simple idea: on a hot summer’s day in 1945, a young girl gives a false account of a serious crime and spends the rest of her life coming to terms with her part in it. From this one transgression, the novel expands into an epic story of war, love, childhood and guilt. McEwan’s skilful and vivid writing presents the reader with a novel about the responsibilities and the power of storytelling. 

Discussion Points: 

- The novel is split into three parts – one summer’s day in Briony’s youth, Robbie’s experiences at France during the war and Briony’s life as wartime nurse. There is also an epilogue with the elderly Briony in 1999. Which of these sections resonated most with you?

- ‘What was guilt these days? It was cheap. Everyone was guilty, and no one was.’ Who is guilty in this novel? 

- What kind of family is the Tallis family? What do you make of the familial relationships and roles the characters engage in? 

- What part does war play in the novel? 

- What is the effect of McEwan’s visceral descriptions of war and violence? 

- How does the sex scene between Robbie and Cecilia contribute to our experience of the novel? What is the effect of Briony interrupting them?

- ‘Yes, I saw him. I saw him.’ What does Atonement say about truth and storytelling? 

- Geoff Dyer commented that with Atonement, ‘McEwan seems to be retrospectively inserting his name into the pantheon of British novelists of the 1930s and 1940s’. Does McEwan share similarities with writers like Virginia Woolf, D.H.Lawrence, E.M.Forster and Henry James?

- McEwan said he fell in love with Briony as a character. What was your impression of her? 

- Atonement was adapted for the screen in 2007. How does the film compare with the book? What would you have done differently if you made the film? 
Have you read Atonement? Join the discussion and leave a comment below! 

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Spring Wishlist

Spring arrives in small doses – a crocus here, a daffodil there – and then suddenly casts its spell on our landscape. It lifts our moods and reminds us there is always sunshine after rain. Here are some things that you could include in your plans for spring…

- How’s your literary life going? Give into temptation, throw off the blanket and head outside for a luxurious read as the spring sun warms your back. Choose uplifting reads by writers like Barbara Pym and Jane Austen to match the blossoming world around you. 

- With Mother’s Day falling on 26th March, this is definitely the time for gratitude. Extend your thankfulness to the special people in your life. 

- Easter, obviously. I command you to eat as many of the treats this season brings, be it hot cross buns, chocolate eggs or simnel cake. 

- Go on a bluebell walk. Put fresh daffodils on your desk. Take photos of the blossom whilst it lasts. Celebrate the beauty popping up all around you. 

- Have an epic spring clean. I think everyone finds it therapeutic to have a good old clear out. Clothes are the obvious one but there’s also gloopy nail varnishes, unwanted books and even email inboxes to think of. What better way is there to feel lighter as we move into spring? 

- Do some crafting. There are some very inspired crafts here to put on your ‘to make’ list. The bunny macaroons are serious baking goals. 

- As I talked about in this post from February, we can take our cue from the natural world after a long winter. Allow the parts of you that have lain dormant to flourish this spring. Re-take up a lost hobby, dust off an old creative project or try to recapture the spirit of a wonderful time in your life. 
Any of these take your fancy? What’s on your spring wish list? Let me know in the comments below… 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Love Notes from the Earth

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. - Proverb

The little shoots that are bursting thought the soil are like little love notes from the earth. Each one cheers us on and reminds us to keep going even on the glummest and gloomiest of days. Spotting these green shoots, the white froth of snowdrops or the jewel-like crocuses that adorn the ground in colourful patches is good for our souls. We can rest assured that brighter days are on their way.

Of course, I love winter and I wrote this post last year about cherishing it before it goes. But there is something magical about the regenerative energy that spring gives our gardens and ourselves.


If you’ve been pondering change, thinking you could be more than the self-limiting beliefs you have placed on yourself, take inspiration from the season’s change and rise up now. Be the hopeful, curious little shoot because you might just be the thing inspiring someone else to do the same.
Are you cheered by the onset of spring? Leave a comment below

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Questions for Cultivating Confidence

Confidence plays a big part in our happiness. We measure our dreams against our own confidence in achieving them, often stopping before we’ve even begun. Part of having confidence is knowing how you define it. For me, confidence is talked about in too broad a term. Can anyone say they are truly confident in every single aspect of their life? We also need to discern whether we think confidence is positive or negative. Some would say confidence means self-obsessed, others would describe it as simply having inner peace. Once you know what confidence means for you, the more likely your chances of feeling it. So, take a deep breath, clear some time for yourself and answer these questions... 
  • What does confidence look like? 
  • Who is the most confident person in your life?
  • Do you need something in particular to be confident, i.e., a particular body type, profession etc.?
  • What tasks give you a sense of mastery? 
  • Is there anyone in your life who makes you feel confident? 
  • Do you properly acknowledge and celebrate your achievements? 
  • What is the difference between cockiness and self-assuredness? 
  • What hampers your self-confidence most? 
  • Can you be confident and introverted?
  • Which aspect of your life do you feel most confident in? 
  • How does the word ‘confident’ relate to a famous figure you adore? 
  • What situations are the greatest drain on your self-confidence?
  • What thoughts are the greatest drain on your self-confidence?  
  • What is the link between confidence and luck? 
  • What is one thing that your own self confidence made possible?
  • What is one thing that lack of confidence has held you back from doing (so far)? 
  • What advice would you give someone who feels low in confidence? 

I would love to know your feelings about confidence. Join the conversation and leave a comment below! 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Valentine Vanilla Hearts

Grand gestures of romance get all the attention; the sweetest things are the little acts of love. These valentine vanilla biscuits are a sweet way to say ‘I love you’. They are the perfect little treat to whip up in less than half an hour and only have four ingredients. Pop one in an envelope and seal with a loving kiss or fill up a biscuit tin to share with your beloved. 


225g/ 8oz plain flour
150g/ 5 ½ oz butter or vegan alternative, cut into small pieces.
125g/5 ½ caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay some baking paper on a baking tray.

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and vanilla extract and mix together to form a firm dough. You may need to add a little milk to bring it together.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of 1cm. Stamp out the hearts with a heart shaped cutter until you run out of dough. Arrange the hearts on the prepared baking tray.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until just coloured. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

5. To decorate, dust with caster sugar, dip in melted chocolate or drizzle with icing and top with sprinkles.

(This simple recipe was adapted from a book called I Love Sugar)

Are you making any tasty treats this Valentine’s Day? Leave a comment below… 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Literary Alphabet: I is for Illustration

With little ones in our family again, I’ve been seeing familiar sights long buried in my memory. Toys I played with, tiny woollen mittens I used to wear and books which were once read to me. Looking over beloved storybooks, I realised how powerful illustration is to the mind. Illustrations are iconic to our memory– think Mr. Happy, The Snowman and the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Whilst the words may be lost between the pages of our ever-growing brain, the image remains long after we have put childish things away.

Illustration naturally reminds us of our childhood books but there are occasions when we grown-ups can enjoy this symphony between word and image too. Try Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle with spell bounding illustrations by Chris Riddle or the brilliant Life Portrait series which tells the life stories of iconic women via drawings. I just love the engravings that appear alongside the text in Victorian novels. These illustrations depict a key moment within the text. The artist must convey hundreds of words in one picture. Rightly or wrongly, those illustrations stay with us as we read. They shape our impression of a character or situation strongly.

Illustrators have a lot of responsibility – like us, they must process the text and conjure up a corresponding image in their minds. But then they take the additional step of putting that image onto paper. Their image can become, or even replace our own. George Du Maurier, Victorian illustrator (and father of Daphne), believed there were two types of readers: the reader ‘who visualises what he reads with the mind's eye, unconsciously, perhaps, and without effort, but in a manner so satisfactory to himself that he wants the help of no picture’ and those who do ‘not possess this gift’. The latter type is who, Du Maurier believed, the illustrator is there to serve. He compares it to theatre – the action can unfold visually before us without any need for our imagination.

I think this underestimates both the reader and the power of pictures. I prefer thinking of illustrations as cues, or keys that can unlock our imagination. We can take the illustrated image and let our imagination run with it. When illustrators get it right, their drawings can be masterful suggestions to our imaginations. If books are there to transport us, illustrations sure can help us on our way.

Catch up with more in my Literary Alphabet series here.
Do you love illustration? What does it mean for you? Do leave a comment below!  

Monday, 6 February 2017

Journal Prompt: Love Stories

‘And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes Heaven drowsy with the harmony.' - William Shakespeare

Will, you old smooth talker. February is the month of moonlight and roses. To celebrate, here are some journal prompts to help you connect with your inner Cupid.

  • Look up dictionary definitions of love. How would you change it, what would you add to these definitions? Are there any synonyms for love? How would you describe it using the five senses?
  •   Single or in a relationship, list ways you can bring more romance into your life. How about planning a visit to a place that inspires you? Writing a sonnet? Devising new self-care rituals for yourself?
  •  What are your favourite representations of love in literature, film and music? Why is it that they move you?
  • To have and to hold. Your longest relationship is with yourself no matter who is in your life. Write a set of marriage vows to yourself – what do you promise to yourself? To never speak harshly? To always get a good night’s sleep?
  • What is your greatest passion in life? Describe in detail why this thing has such a presence in your life. Allow the feelings of accomplishment and joy to wash over you as you write about it.

Join the conversation! Leave a comment below… 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...