Monday, November 29, 2010

Churchill War Rooms

I came home from London with a pile of books to read, and I've just read the first one in the stack, From Churchill's War Rooms: Letters of a Secretary 1943-45 by Joanna Moody. I picked it up in the gift shop at one of my favorite London places: the Churchill War Rooms.

The museum is located very close to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Parliament and other British government buildings. Yet, during World War II, Churchill and many other government and military personnel hid out here, strategizing and planning for victory. The underground rooms have been left nearly as they were when the war ended in 1945. I was truly fascinated by this museum and all that took place here during those crucial years.

The Churchill War Rooms is located across the street from Saint James Park, which is just gorgeous, and from the museum and many places in the park, you can see Buckingham Palace (see above).

Letters of a Secretary caught my eye in the gift shop, and I've just finished reading it today. It's a conglomeration of historical information that supplements the letters back and forth between Olive Christopher, who was General Hollis' secretary, and her army officer fiance, Neil Margerison. The letters give great detail to what it was like to be a British citizen and working for the country during the war. Though, understandably, many top secret details are omitted, the letters do still offer great detail about travel abroad, the shortage of nylon stockings and fabric for making clothes, and many other day-to-day details. Lucky for us all, Neil and Olive enjoyed a happy marriage after the war ended, and Olive was consulted in the 1980s when the War Rooms were being readied for public eyes.

This was a very satisfying read, and I'm now passing it on to my dad. I'm still on the lookout, though, for a nonfiction account of what it was like to live and work as a regular citizen in London during World War II. If you know of something good, let me know.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Short Stories

Generally speaking, as a reader I've rarely gotten much pleasure out of reading short stories. I typically feel like I'm not as deeply invested with the characters as when I read novels, and I finish the story wishing it was longer and that I knew more about each character. However, I've surprised myself twice lately by really enjoying two collections of short stories.

Last week I listened to John Grisham's Ford County on CDs in the car. I've read a handful of his novels before and only really, really liked A Time to Kill and A Painted House, but found myself really enjoying this collection of stories. I think what I liked about them is that I felt like even though they were short stories, Grisham did a great job of making me feel strongly about each character right from the get-go. The characters are both Southern and believable. This doesn't happen as often as it should.

I've also slowly been working my way through the book I won on Facebook a few months ago from Algonquin, as I mentioned here. It's called New Stories from the South 2010 and it's really a pleasure to read. If you like this kind of thing, I think you should read it. Time well spent.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Celebrating the First Year

Today marks exactly one year since I left a job that wasn't working out so well to put all my energy into making freelance writing and editing my full-time endeavor. I was a little hesitant, as a year ago didn't seem like the best time to start a business, but it looked better than my alternative, which was going into an office everyday and working in a decidedly uncreative position where I just wasn't a good fit.

It's been an amazing year. I've gotten the opportunity to do things I never thought I'd do. My creative mind has been stretched and tested in wonderful ways. In just this year alone, I've teamed up with  companies that provide interesting products and services to write their marketing collateral, written for the nonprofit sector, edited a blog, provided social media services for a restaurant, written publicity pieces for a Vietnam War documentary, edited nonfiction manuscripts and academic journals, began coaching a first-time novel writer, written websites for a variety of companies spanning multiple sectors, and offered public relations writing consultation, among other things. My work has been all over the place and it's been wonderful.  

I've enjoyed my work, but also the freedom that comes with self-employment. I've been able to devote more time to this blog, read more and more deliberately, and travel to some great places (Wrightsville Beach, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Nashville, Hendersonville, Oxford and Tupelo, Chicago, London and Bath, and plenty of trips back to my hometown, Raleigh). Never once did I have to submit a vacation request.

For all those people who have encouraged me this year, asked me how things are going, told someone you know about my business, sent some business or a referral my way, followed me on Twitter (@betsyrhame), not minded when I cancelled hanging out with you to work just a little bit longer, helped me with my website ( - Thank you, Lori!), invited me to a networking event, or any number of other helpful things, I appreciate you.

I'm very excited to see how things turn out. Here's to year two!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Help

I'm a magazine junkie. I have so many that I'm usually behind. Right now I'd love to be reading about Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes I might like to try, but I'm still working through the October magazine pile. One of my new favorite magazine subscriptions is Atlanta Magazine. It's a fun read each month, telling me all the places in Atlanta I should be eating and all the other great things the city has to offer that I should take advantage of.

I recently read the September issue and was pleased as punch to see a Q&A with Kathryn Stockett, Atlanta resident and author of one of my favorite reads this year, The Help. There is even more good news associated with this bestseller: filming for the movie has begun in Mississippi, Stockett is considering writing a short story prequel to her novel, and she's at the beginning stages of writing a second novel. Hooray!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Literary Trails of North Carolina

At long last, one of the follow ups to Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains has been published! For my birthday last week, my sister bought me Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks. I've skimmed most of the book so far, but just can't wait to start checking things off as I have done in the past year or so in Asheville and Hendersonville, NC. At first glance, there are a lot of fun things to check out: the residences of Betty Smith (author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), all the authors living in Hillsborough (Lee Smith, Hal Crowther, Allan Gurganus, Jill McCorkle and sometimes Annie Dillard) and NC Central University where Zora Neale Hurston taught briefly, to name a few.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Celebrating 50 Years

Last night, I attended Decatur Library's program, "Celebrating Mockingbird," with friend and recent transplant to the South, Lori. The panelists were Southern literary professor Tom McHaney, high school English teacher and Monroeville native Cathy Powers, and actor Tom Key, who has played the role of Atticus Finch on stage. McHaney and Powers had an interesting dialogue about the power of To Kill a Mockinbird and its impact on readers over the last 50 years. Powers was able to speak specifically to Author Harper Lee's wish to remain unbothered by reporters and others who love the book. When asked how Monroeville citizens felt about the book's publication, she said everyone was excited about it except those who showed up in the book. As discussion wrapped up, Key did a monologue of Atticus Finch's closing arguments in the trial of Tom Robinson, which was fantastic.The auditorium at the library was nearly full, and parking was hard to come by. It's nice to know I'm not the only one holding this novel in such high regard, and that after 50 years, To Kill a Mockingbird can still draw a crowd.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Some Current Events

You get a break from London posts today, as I've found several news stories of interest, with three upcoming events if you live in Atlanta or Alabama. Here goes:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

One of the books I listened to on my iPod before traveling to London was Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J. M. Barrie. Like Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins, other books written by English writers but adapted by Disney, the Disney movies are what I think of when I think about the characters in these books. Barrie wrote several Peter Pan books, and I hope to listen to more of them on my iPod when I can.

In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, we meet Peter Pan, a baby with the ability to fly. Overnight one evening, he flies out of the window to nearby Kensington Gardens and becomes stuck there, unable to return to his London home. At this point he begins to encounter many of the creatures and characters inhabiting the park, many of who come alive at night after all the humans have gone home. Once Peter gets there, he realizes his mother probably misses him, and Peter enlists the help of the fairies to help him fly home. Once he gets there, he realizes his mother has had another baby and he is heartbroken, returning to live at Kensington Gardens.

This book was a fun, short read. The day my fellow traveler and I visited Kensington Palace, I thought about Peter Pan flying about once we'd all gone home for the day. In the park, there is a statue honoring Peter Pan, and this photo was taken by my best friend Teresa on a trip to London with her family several years ago.