Blogging by Mail

I came across something really interesting on another blog today. is a great food blog by a woman in Dublin. Following her link to, I have signed up for Blogging by Mail.

Here’s the idea:

Food bloggers from all over the world swap treats and baked good, recipes and more, sending care packages to new friends. Cookies, breads, preserves, condiments, teas and coffees, music, cookbooks, photos…anything you want.

Everyone who joins is paired up with a swap partner to whom they’ll send a package.

I’m in… are you?

I’ll keep you posted on the outcome!

blogs we love

I’ve been getting more and more into blogs recently. Being the Queen of Surf (as y’all know I am) my web wanderings have led me to some weird and wonderful places, many of them blogs. I have shared some of my favourites with you below.
Wandering Scribe

This amazing story of a homeless London woman who has been living out of her car since February 2006. Rivetting and inspiring.


Overheard in Dublin

Hilarious postings of comments, stories and sheer stupidity overheard in Dublin. I love it.


Waiter Rant

A New York waiter with a sharp observational eye.


One Red Paperclip

Kyle MacDonald started with one red paperclip on July 12th, 2005 and he is trying to trade it for a house. His current item up for trade is an afternoon with Alice Cooper.


Chase me ladies, I’m in the cavalry

My absolute favourite, mostly because of the wonderful plea in the top right-hand corner: “URGENT! Please send 300kilos of white mice. No time to explain.” Other articles include Which Spice Girl Would You Eat First? And It’s Not My Real Ladder, It’s My Step-Ladder”. Wild.

Boring Like A Drill

“The only authoritative guide to culture” is based somewhere between London and Melbourne, and has lots of great writing, music and other “kulchur” links as well as the blogger’s own stuff.

I Hope You Get Cancer

More London ramblings, this time from a clever lady who intersperses her more mundane stuff with witty social commentary such as “What’s so wrong with Sharia law anyway?” and “Iraq: Mission accomplished”.

The 43                                                                                                      
A great blog by a bloke who would like to be a travel writer but only gets to go to and from work on the no 43 bus from Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport and back. You would not believe what great material he gets from this.

New York Hack

One of the most famous blogs in the world, a female NY cab driver posts photos, philosophical points of view and general observations on a really well-written and compelling blog.

Diary of an Average Australian

Daniel Bowen has been writing about his “average Australian” life for eight years, with nothing too insignificant or momentous to record, from a visit to a suburban Chinese restaurant, all the way up to a poignant entry on the birth of his first child.

Big White Guy

Adventures of Randall , a Canadian writer and photographer living in Hong Kong. Amusing anecdotes and fabulous photos.

London Calling

Ramblings of a gay metrosexual London bloke buying a new motorbike, watching DVDs on his PSP on the tube,  compaining about crap Costa baristas and the like. Bitchy in parts but entertaining.

I ain’t no Bridget Jones

Girly chat about everything from squeezy Marmite tubs to cocktails.

Hungbunny – Fisting your ears with my nose

Sometimes hilarious bursts of fun: Britney Spears’ birthing sculpture (“Abort! Abort!”, Burberry mopeds and horse’s head cushions.

Sunshine & Chocolate                                                                                   
Very lightweight (like my own wanderings!) but good in a Howyah Magazine-type way. Transcripts of text conversations, Harry Potter obsessions and minutiae of life abound.

seven things

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

1. See the Aurora Borealis

2. Forgive somebody properly

3. Get a book published

4. Age gracefully

5. See fifty more countries

6. Meet the next seven presidents of Ireland (I’ve met the last two)

7. Stay ridiculously healthy up to the last moment

Seven Things I Cannot Do

1. Eat a raw tomato

2. Walk downhill or descend stairs without thinking I am going to fall and break all my teeth

3. Cook genuine-tasting curried goat

4. Maintain zero points on my driver’s licence for long

5. Spend very long in a cold climate

6. Keep my living space tidy for long

7. Stay up late

Seven Things That Attract Me to Europe

1. Family and friends

2. Being there for London 2012

3. Cheap flights to anywhere

4. Better TV and radio (I miss the BBC)

5. Forty different cultures and languages on my doorstep

6. A better class of politician (no, really)

7. Irish sausages


Seven Things That I’d Miss About Melbourne

1. Family and friends

2. Kangaroos and other weird wildlife

3. Wineries on my doorstep

4. The skyline

5. The amazing food

6. Excellent independent shops in every town and suburb – butchers, clothes, everything

7. The weather

Seven Things I Say

1. Bollocks

2. Oh for fuck’s sake

3. The sun is always over the yardarm somewhere in the world

4. Where are we going for dinner?

5. I’m hungry

6. I’m starving

7. Thanks a million

Seven Good Books

1. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

2. The Lonely Planet to Anywhere

3. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

4. Round Ireland With A Fridge by Tony Hawks

5. Mr. God This Is Anna by Finn

6. Notes From a Small Country by Bill Bryson

7. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Seven Good Movies

1. Meet Me In St. Louis

2. Blade

3. Schindler’s List

4. Love Actually

5. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

6. Independence Day (Will Smith AND Jeff Goldblum!)

7. Pulp Fiction

Seven Blogs To Tag

1. Bibliocook

2. Tomato

3. Waiterrant

4. Diary of an Average Australian

5. Route 79

6. We Do Chew Our Food

7. The 43

top ten books

Imagine your child, your god-child, or perhaps a child you know will become the leader of the free world, can only ever read ten books in their lifetime. What would those books be?

Thanks to all who contributed to the experiment. I received some wonderful lists from people, many of whom also gave their reasons why they chose the books.

In the end, we didn’t have a full top ten. There was a handful of books who were nominated a number of times, and a clear number one book. But the rest of the books nominated make such a great collection that I have listed them all here. Click here to buy any or all of the Top Eight from Amazon. Enjoy!

Number 1 – four votes

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance        
“Read this book firstly as a fairy tale”      
“To be read a second time immediately after The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, as an allegory of how power corrupts and all that”

Mairead Doyle                                                                                        “This book can be read again and again in life to appreciate its many layers”

Katea Downie

Joint 2nd

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nominated by:

Manu Pillai
Katea Downie
Mairead Doyle         
“The ultimate cautionary tale for our times”

Joint 2nd

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance        
“Because mental health problems are just health problems”

Eileen Kershaw
Mairead Doyle

Joint 4th

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Nominated by:

Sam Evans  
“Read this book and you won’t have a great view of humanity; like no other book it reveals the human cost of wars and why they should never be fought”

Mairead Doyle         
“Probably the best war book ever written”

Joint 4th

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Nominated by:

“A modern Australian flavour”

Sam Evans  
“An Australian masterpiece, amazingly written book about two poor families in western australia that suffer catastrophies but live on – wonderful use of Australian rural language”

Joint 4th

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Nominated by:

Katea Downie
Katharine Haines

Joint 4th

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Nominated by:

Katea Downie
Mairead Doyle         
“A powerful story about growing up in an imperfect world”

Joint 4th

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Nominated by:

Manu Pillai

Sam Evans  
“Helped me get perspective – I think I’ll need to re-read this every few years to keep its messages fresh”


Ref. Title Author Nominated by
1 100 Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez Suzanne Parsons
2 A Shropshire Lad AE Housman Katharine Haines
3 A Well Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide Oscar Lenius Orlando Gibson
4 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy Sam Evans
5 Art of War Sun Tzu Manu Pillai
6 Between You & I James Cochrane Orlando Gibson
7 Bhowani Junction John Masters Hayley Burchill
8 Bible Reference Lesa Campbell
9 Black Beauty Anna Sewell Louise Beechey
10 Black Dogs Ian McEwan Bres
11 Bonjour Tristesse Francoise Sagan Katharine Haines
12 Brave New World Aldous Huxley Manu Pillai
13 Bridge to Terebithia Kathrine Patterson Alison Crimmins
14 Brotherman Herb Boyd & Robert Allen Orlando Gibson
15 Captain Correlli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres Louise Beechey
16 Catch 22 Joseph Heller Nick Lawrance
17 Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger Katea Downey
18 Change the World Robert E Quinn Dean Campbell
19 Computer Programming for Dummies Reference Orlando Gibson
20 Crime & Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky Louise Beechey
21 Danny, Champion of the World Roald Dahl Nick Lawrance
22 Definitely Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand Alison Crimmins
23 Dracula Bram Stoker Nick Lawrance
24 Elizabeth – Red Rose of the House of Tudor Kathryn Lasky Kathryn Fridman
25 Endurance Alfred Lansing Sam Evans
26 Famous Five or Secret Seven Enid Blyton Eileen Kershaw
27 Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser Katharine Haines
28 Howl’s Moving Castle Diana Wynne Jones Kathryn Fridman
29 I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith Katharine Haines
30 I, Coriander Sally Gardener Kathryn Fridman
31 If This Is A Man Primo Levi Katharine Haines
32 In Praise of Slow Carl Honore Katharine Haines
33 In Spain Ted Walker Annette Doyle
34 Journey to the River Sea Eva Ibbotson Kathryn Fridman
35 Les Miserables Victor Hugo Louise Beechey
36 Lord of the Rings J R R Tolkien Sam Evans
37 Lyn: A Diary of Prostitution Lyn Madden Annette Doyle
38 Maid of Buttermere Melvyn Bragg Louise Beechey
39 Martin and Malcolm and America James H Cone Orlando Gibson
40 Master and Commander Patrick O’Brien Hayley Burchill
41 Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy Louise Beechey
42 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie Mairead Doyle
43 Mr God This Is Anna Finn Mairead Doyle
44 Northern Lights Philip Pullman Kathryn Fridman
45 Noughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman Mairead Doyle
46 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Ian Fleming Nick Lawrance
47 Oxford English Dictionary Reference Orlando Gibson
48 Parade’s End Ford Madox Ford Hayley Burchill
49 Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyon Hayley Burchill
50 Pole to Pole Michael Palin Katharine Haines
51 Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry Various Louise Beechey
52 Rachel’s Holiday Marian Keyes Annette Doyle
53 RHS Gardening Manual Reference Hayley Burchill
54 Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Katea Downey
55 Schindler’s Ark Thomas Kenneally Mairead Doyle
56 Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder Bres
57 Teach Yourself Chinese Reference Orlando Gibson
58 Teach Yourself Spanish Reference Orlando Gibson
59 The Butcher Boy Patrick McCabe Annette Doyle
60 The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx Nick Lawrance
61 The Constant Gardener John le Carre Suzanne Parsons
62 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Alborn Bres
63 The Horse Whisperer Nicholas Evans Annette Doyle
64 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Suzanne Parsons
65 The Lady Grace Mysteries – Assassin Patricia Finney Kathryn Fridman
66 The Lonely Planet – India Lonely Planet Annette Doyle
67 The Lost World of the Kalahari Laurens van der Post Katharine Haines
68 The Mousehole Cat Antonia Barber Louise Beechey
69 The New York Trilogy Paul Auster Bres
70 The Once and Future King T H White Katharine Haines
71 The Piano Tuner Daniel Mason Hayley Burchill
72 The Prophet Kahlil Gibran Annette Doyle
73 The Reader Bernard Schlink Nick Lawrance
74 The Silent World Jacques Cousteau Louise Beechey
75 The Star of Kazan Eva Ibbotson Kathryn Fridman
76 The Treatment Mo Hayder Annette Doyle
77 The Worlds of Chrestomanci – The Magicians of Capriona Diana Wynne Jones Kathryn Fridman
78 Time Bandits Michael Palin & Terry Gilliam Orlando Gibson
79 Twinkle Annual Eileen Kershaw
80 Veronika Decides to Die Paul Coelho Annette Doyle
81 Vile Victorians (Horrible Histories) Terry Deary Kathryn Fridman
82 Voyage of the Dawn Treader C S Lewis Nick Lawrance
83 Winnie the Pooh – Complete Collection of Poems and Stories A A Milne Mairead Doyle
84 Women’s Room Mariyn French Annette Doyle

Willy LitFest

Yesterday I participated in the Williamstown Literary Festival. On stage. As a competitor.

I didn’t mean to: I thought I had volunteered to read out some other person’s work, but apparently I had put my name forward to read my own piece. Later it was further clarified that I would be reading out my offering as part of the People’s Choice Awards, to be voted on by the audience on the day.

I spent the day at the festival, sitting in on lectures and workshops. The “Writing Food” talk by a local celebrity chef got the gourmet juices flowing, and now three of his books are on my must-have list. I was ravenous afterwards.

The “Sassy In The City: Writing The Modern Woman” lecture was given by a beautiful young romance writer with glossy curls, a great handbag and a handsome man waiting in the wings for her. Even though she was talking romantic fiction I got quite a few tips from her experiences. A couple of very elderly ladies in tweed and tight curls sat in the front row and muttered quietly to each other, shaking their heads and wondering aloud who this Bridget Jones was that the writer kept referring to.

Back in the Meeting Room of the Mechanics Institute, the wooden plaques around the room lauded past presidents of the Ancient Order of Druids and past Grands of the institute itself. A small group collected for the People’s Choice Awards and eleven local writers, myself included, stood and read out their personal pieces. I was the youngest entrant by far, except perhaps for the fresh-faced writer of teenage books whose perfect skin and long glossy auburn hair would have made me envious were he not a bloke.

One of the front-row ladies from the Sassy lecture, a sprightly 80-year-old local woman, stood and read a beautiful and poignant recollection of a Scottish friend, written for his funeral. A younger woman in grey snakeskin drainpipes gave a spirited rendition of her perfectly phrased and rhymed epic poem about the Aussies’ favourite horse, Phar Lap. A fashionably-dressed silver-haired woman from the University of the Third Age read out a lovely and amusing piece written from the point of view of a bonsai with a high opinion of itself.

My turn came. I stood at the top of the class, it seemed, and read out a version of my Chengde story from China. I was nervous and I know my voice shook a little at times. It is so different when you are seeking validation of your own words: I might as well have been standing there pleading for them all to like me.

I didn’t win of course: the bonsai lady deservedly picked up the first prize. Early this morning when I awoke I realised I’d had no chance – I didn’t even give myself top marks in the vote. I had misread the instructions and on my own ballot paper I had placed myself third, beneath the bonsai woman and a fellow writers’ group entrant.

Maybe next year.

book reviews

have finally made a start on the book reviews, with a handful of my favourite new and classic titles below. Don’t forget to volunteer via the guestbook or email if you want to take part!


The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

An amazing book loved by women all over the world, a best seller by word of mouth. The story of Dinah, a woman barely mentioned in the Book of Genesis, it is a beautifully told tale of the time, and a testament to the remarkable women in our past who were often left out of the history books. Unforgettable.


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This was recommended to me by Orlando’s 12-year-old god-daughter Lalah. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time wanted to read very slowly so that it would not end. A story told by a dead girl who was killed violently is expected to be gruesome or macabre but it is quite the opposite. I would suspect that this book would bring hope and comfort to anybody who has lost a loved one. I was certainly touched by it, and it even made me re-visit my views on the afterlife.
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

What a wonderful book. This is a lovely story of a young Indian boy, Pi, who finds himself shipwrecked with a variety of zoo animals. The tale is gripping throughout, with stories of how he survives each threat, but the twist at the end makes you want to literally turn straight to page one and start reading all over again! It is a book to be enjoyed at so many levels, simply written with a positive message for everybody.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This is probably the best book I’ve ever read, and certainly my favourite. With all the furore surrounding this book when it came out, I was put off, but several years later travelling through Mexico I was tempted to pick it up. I couldn’t put it down. I was unprepared for the fact that it was a funny book, a comical story of Gibreel and Saladin who spend the first 40 or so pages having a conversation whilst falling through the sky from a plane crash.

I definitely identified the point at which Rushdie incurred the wrath of the Ayatollah, but instead of horrific blasphemy I saw a committed Muslim poking fun at a religion he loves – something I can identify with having been brought up a Catholic. This book was the start of a long love affair with Rushdie’s writing; I have now read everything he has written and await each new book with enthusiasm. 

Can’t recommend it highly enough!
Live from Golgotha by Gore Vidal
Imagine what would happen if TV executives discover the secrets of time travel, and decide to go back in time to do a live TV broadcast of the crucifixion…. This is Gore Vidal at his satirical and hilarious best, and a book that anyone with views on organised religion is bound to find gripping. Throwing curve balls into the story like how the marketers are going to deal with the difficult issue of an overweight Jesus on TV, and the ability to communicate by fax machine with St. Paul, makes the story even more complicated and difficult to follow. But my suggestion is just go with it – it’s high entertainment!