Photography Again…

Well, I have decided to separate out my photography from my book blogging and have started a new photography blog which you can find over at www.helenfennell.com. It’s a place for me to display my portfolio as well as ramble on about my photography. Please do feel free to pop over and take a look. I will of course still be book blogging here 🙂

 

 

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Photography Sunday #7: Where I Get a Severe Bout of Gear Acquisition Syndrome

IMG_0578It is quite possible that I had a slip of the credit card back in January and pre-ordered the new Fuji X100F camera. It finally arrived on Friday, and oh, it is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous camera, the fourth incarnation of the X100 launched some years ago. Those who have used one of the previous versions have raved about it, and I got all caught up in the hype and bought one.  It reminds me very much of my Nikon FM2 film camera. If feels sturdy, but not too heavy and has all the traditional dials of a film SLR. The Delightful Mr F and I went out and about in Bath to try it out yesterday. It was fantastic to use, and I can see this becoming a real workhorse for me.

It would be fair to say that I am now suffering severely from Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS*), which is a lot like Book Acquisition Syndrome (BAS) but manifests itself in the buying of photography equipment instead of literary material. There is method in my madness though. 2017 is a year for me to concentrate on my photography and a bit of kit here and there is reasonable I think. TheDelightful Mr F says that without trying things, how will I know if they work for me? I like his logic. He is a good egg, no doubt about it.

BathIt turns out that my credit card is really quite slippery as it slipped again and I also bought a stack of photography books and some Folio Society books too this month. The Folio ones were on sale, so they don’t count do they?

*What and unfortunate acronym

A Mind Worth Having?

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A place to develop your mind…

It’s been a funny start to 2017, that is to say odd rather than hilarious. Last week I met my pals, C and S for luncheon at a local eatery. C had bought her very photogenic son, T, who was as good as gold and after a suitable amount of cute baby noise generation, and batting off dotty old ladies* who wanted to play with T, we settled down for a natter.

I have, dear readers, recently been accused of being weird because I don’t have an in depth knowledge of the goings on in the Kardashian family and would rather read a book instead. I announced this to C and S with some sadness. We then pooled our collective knowledge. All we knew was that Kim was robbed recently, and that there were several of them, all having names beginning with K. We ran rather dry on facts after that. I did consider Googling, but frankly couldn’t be bothered and didn’t think it would much enhance our lunch.

I know the Kardashians are very popular, and not having watched the programme, I could be accused of not being in a position to comment. However, I do feel calling someone odd for reading rather than watching reality TV is a little bit rude. It made me wonder dear readers whether you have ever been insulted because you like a good book. I am sure the Kardashians are excellent entertainment, but better than a Pratchett, Austen, Ishiguro Wodhouse or Christie**? For some yes, but not for me.

The whole “odd” accusation had me feeling very down, until I heard Sam Harris on one of his podcasts say that in order to have a mind worth having, then you need to understand science, the arts and the humanities. I paraphrased there, but I did like the idea of “a mind worth having”. So, what would you read to help you develop a mind worth having? For me it would be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction:

  • PG Wodhouse – for the laughs
  • Agatha Christie – for the social observations
  • Terry Pratchett – for wry observations on life, the universe and everything
  • Richard Dawkins – for the rigorous biological science
  • AC Grayling – for the philosophy and to make me think
  • Christopher Hitchens – for the awe of his thought processes and writing
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – for the beauty and sheer range of his writing
  • Peter Ackroyd – for scandalous history
  • The Encyclopædia Britannica – for the joy of opening it randomly and learning something obscure yet interesting (if you have never done this, then I urge you to. You will be enthralled and unbeatable in a pub quiz).
  • Sam Harris – for the marvellous way he can deconstruct a problem and then construct an argument from the facts in front of him***.

What would be on your list dear readers?

*By the way, if you want to scare old ladies, look after someone else’s child while they order food at a counter. When aforementioned dotty old lady comes to coo over the baby and asks how old they are, answer with “I don’t know, he isn’t my baby”. The look of horror as they automatically assume you have kidnapped the child is brilliant. I should say that it is best to clarify that he belongs to your friend who is less than ten feet away otherwise you may have some explaining to do to the local constabulary. 

** Insert your favourite author here

*** I really hope he isn’t a fan of the Kardashians…

Photography Sunday #7: Where I Walk 11 Miles

2017-02-17 London_102Last week I had to go to London for a spot of work. That completed I went for a wander around and about and took some shots on my Fuji X70, which is rapidly becoming a permanent fixture in my bag. I am not well versed in the geography of our great capital city, but decided I would just amble around the place and follow my nose if I found something interesting. It was a glorious spring day and I found myself meandering in the areas of St Paul’s, Holborn, Fleet Street as well as along the South Bank. It was all very pleasant indeed. I shot a lot of photographs and had to stop when both my batteries were depleted. I was a little shocked when on the train home to find that I had walked 11 miles!

I have realised that photography is becoming much like reading for me. I am starting to integrate it into my daily life and it broadens my view of the world, which is no bad thing. It also opens up conversations that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. At one point I was reading a sign outside a church I had found down a quiet side street. Seeing my camera, a chap stopped and told me that if I walked to the end of the street and turned right there was the most amazing view of the church with great shadows when the sun came out. Then he went on his way. No idea who he was, but it was a nice interaction. I like to think he was a spy with an eye for photographic composition on his way to a dead drop. More likely he was an accountant, but why spoil a good story eh?

Anyway, here are my favourite shots from the day. 2017-02-17 London_124

Photography Sunday #4: Where I Have Now Read The Manual

When the Delightful Mr F first taught me how to use an SLR camera about 20 years ago, there was relatively little to learn once you had your head around the aperture, shutter speed, ISO triangle. After that it was all about practise and learning to “see” photographically. Now though, it is a whole different world… My first SLR, a Nikon FM2,  was completely manual, manual focus, manual settings, not an automatic widget in sight. In fact it was so manual it would work without a battery.

My lovely new Fuji cameras can do everything apart from actually walk out the door and take the photos themselves. The risk is that the camera doesn’t quite do what you expect and you end up with a photographic dog’s dinner. Even if you are photographing a dog’s dinner you want it to be in focus and properly exposed don’t you? Why am I rambling on about this? Well, on Monday I had my first one to one photographic mentoring session with Kevin Ahronson. We talked about my homework from the first course lecture. I had five photographs for him to review, all of the Delightful Mr F doing some karate training. Three of them I was quite pleased with, one I couldn’t quite work out why I wasn’t so happy, and the final one I had struggled with getting how I wanted it.

It turns out dear reader, that I had fallen foul of the autofocus system. The reason I was so dissatisfied with one shot was that the autofocus system hadn’t quite got things right, so The Delightful Mr F was looking somewhat blurry around the edges. I am so used to focusing manually, I hadn’t quite cottoned on to what was happening with the automatic functions.

So, on Wednesday lunchtime you would have found me reading the manual which came with my camera. Yes, the actual manual, which to be fair didn’t help a great deal, so I resorted to the wonder that is YouTube. I think I now have it nailed and so The Delightful Mr F need not be in fear of being blurry again.

The one to one mentoring is extraordinarily powerful. In half an hour Kevin had shown me where I had got things right, and where the others photos could be improved. I doubt I could have worked it all out on my own. I also met his cat, who is super cute.

So, here are a few shots of The Delightful Mr F. After almost six years, you must all be wondering what he looks like. Happy Sunday!

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The Totally Uninfluential Fennell Books Blog Awards 2015

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Who would have thought it? Once again we are at the end of another year, and it is time for me to announce the prestigious Uninfluential Fennell Books Blog Awards*.

The Delightful Mr F is handing around the orange squash**, and the buffet (3 items for ÂŁ10 from M&S) is on the side, please do help yourself***.

This year has been a very good reading year indeed. I have read 57 books in total, which isn’t bad at all, especially as I had a bit of a reading drought around July. I have read everything from cosy crime, to some full on, bragging rights literature, and have enjoyed it all.

Without further ado, here are the awards:

  

The Check Your Facebooks Settings Award

This has to go to The Circle by David Eggers. A story on the dangers of mega corporations and your online profile. It is hugely readable in that thriller, page turning sort of way, but packs a very heavy cautionary punch. 

 

The How to Put Your Characters through the Wringer Award

The Shiralee by D’Arcy Niland was one of the first books published by Fox, Finch and Tepper. I adore this book, the tale of a man in the Australian outback, looking for casual work with his young daughter in tow. I don’t know where to start with praise for this book, the plot, the characters, the descriptions of Australia are all amazing. The relationship between Macauley and his daughter Buster is wonderful and develops beautifully through the book as the pair of them face just about every trauma a writer could throw at them.

 

The What the Heck was that About? Award

Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan was the runaway winner here. The story about a broken hearted writer who throws a story he has written about a sombrero in the bin, only for the story to start to take on a new life. I have tried several times to explain to people what this is about, but fail every time I try. I suspect there to be some deep meaning to both the plot about the author and the sombrero story, but I think it passed me by.  Nevertheless, the chaos caused by the sombrero in a small town is so ridiculous, and yet so real, it is worth the confusion.

 

The Exactly the Right Denouement Award

Regular readers will know I am big fan of Clementine Beauvais, The Royal Wedding Crashers is a part of her Royal Babysitters series for younger readers. The book is full of the mad, the funny and the exciting, just as you would expect. What I wasn’t expecting was the ending. It is fabulous. Obviously I am not going to give it away, but it is brilliantly, slickly and cleverly done. It could easily have ended differently, and if it had, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

 

The Beautiful, Strange and Compelling Award

I picked up Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baum randomly at Mr B’s and it was one of those lucky purchases. In it we meet a man who lives alone, apart from his dog, a one-time badger baiting animal which has to be kept apart from other dogs. Eventually the dog attacks another dog and the pair of them, in fear of the dog warden, go on the run. On their travels across rural Ireland we start to learn about the man’s background, and finally his name. There is a feeling of underlying uneasiness, and the reader is never quite sure whether the man is misunderstood, or has done something truly dreadful. The writing is so skilful that I was unsure what had gone on right up until the final paragraphs. As a whole, the characters, the relationship between man and dog and the wonderful descriptions of the seasons passing in Ireland makes for a very powerful read.

 

The Book of the Year Award

My book of the year is…. The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren. This is actually a young adult book about many things, but primarily bullying. Nella and Robert live with their alcoholic mother and troubled father. Robert is badly bullied at school and Nella does her best to protect him from what, in some cases, is brutal violence by his classmates. Bella’s friend Tommy has a secret, his older brother and his friends have captured a Merman. When Bella’s problems start to overlap those of the Merman’s who is being kept captive, things start to spiral out of control. Set in Sweden in the 1980s the plot is not easy to read, this is no “little mermaid” storyline.  What this book does so well is to describe sibling relationships, both good and bad, and the mystical Merman doesn’t make any of it less real. It is stunning, there isn’t any other word for it. I read it back in January and even now I think of it regularly. A book that stays with me for that long and in such detail has to be my book of the year.

So there we have it. My favourite reads of the year. I hope the winners are pleased, and I expect they are rushing to their downstairs cloakroom to place their award carefully on the cistern, next to the spare loo roll.

What were your favourite reads of the year?

* These awards are becoming increasingly uninfluential as the years go on…

** With a little umbrellas in each glass

*** Beware the salmon vol-au-vents, the pastry is crumbly.