books and authors you simply must read

As many of you know, I adore A to Z’s.
So, to celebrate the fantastic world of audio books, here is the A to Z of audio books – in 3 parts.
A is for: Audible
I have been a member of audible for almost 10 years and during that time I’ve listened to over 100 books.
The first one I read was called The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams.
I used to read them on the way to work on the bus. I worked in Bangor at the time and it was an hour long journey each way.
B is for: Breath
I’m going to take this opportunity *it’s my blog after all* to recommend some books, authors and narrators I’ve really enjoyed.
I moved to Cardiff 4 years ago and didn’t have any TV, smart phone (I know, can you imagine?) or CD player.
The only means of entertainment I had was a battery operated radio, but, much as I adore radio 4, there’s only so much you can listen to!
Breath is by one of my favourite male authors, Tim Winton.
It’s set in Western Australia which holds a very special place in my heart.
It is about a paramedic who explores the theme of “breath” as part of his work, and his time as a teenager when he and his friend used to dare each other to hold their breath underwater for as long as they could.
The first part of the story isn’t drawn to conclusion until nearer the end, and the outcome left me – well almost breathless! *sorry*
C is for: Catherine Howard
If – and it’s a big if I ever went on Mastermind, one of my specialist subjects would be Catherine Howard.
I’ve always been drawn to “tragic heroines” and there’s something really appealing and enigmatic about Henry 8’s fifth wife.
Suzannah Dunn’s excellent book The Confessions of Catherine Howard is about the relationship between her and Cat Tilney, a distant relative and eventual lady in waiting to Catherine.
It depicts Catherine’s total naivety – but also shows how in the end, even your closest friends can’t be trusted.
I’d really recommend this to anyone who’s interested in Tudor times – it’s easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable.
D is for: dogs
I adore dogs! One of the very first books I heard was 101 Dalmatians.
I heard it on a cassette (for anyone under 18 reading this – ask your parents what a cassette is)
It was read by Joanna Lumley.
I loved the stories of Pongo, Mrs. And Perdita.
I recently re-read it – and also The Starlight Barking (which I hadn’t read before) and it was great to be re-acquainted with this brilliant book.
E is for: Emma Powell
This is the first of some excellent narrators I’m going to feature in this blog.
Emma Powell’s voice is kind, reassuring and great to listen to.
I’d recommend you listen to The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ally McNamara.
F is for: favourite
I have so many favourite authors I thought I’d pop them in a big long list for you to check out at your leisure.
Lucy Dillon: (try Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts) I first read a Lucy Dillon book during an immensely stressful and traumatic time – and it helped me through the awfulness of the experience by providing a small crumb of comfort.
Lucy Diamond: (try The Secret of Happiness)
I love Lucy’s books so much, I’ve purposely not read them all, as there’s nothing worse in book land than reading everything by one person then waiting ages for their next book to come out.
Warning: You’ll need tissues when you read these authors.
Liane Moriarty: When I read The Last Anniversary it was like one of the characters had been written just for me.
I could relate so much – and when an author does that, there’s something special about them.
Liane isn’t afraid to explore deep and dark themes either.
I purposely didn’t watch Little Lies as I knew it would never be anywhere near as good as the original book (sorry Reece and Nicole)
Read anything by her – and also her sister Nicola who is a brilliant author in her own right.
G is for: giggling.
I giggle – a lot! In fact, I’ve often startled various animals, people and birds with a particularly uproarious snort or screech!
I remember reading a really hilarious part in Neither here nor there by Bill Bryson and I laughed so loud the whole train carriage I was in stared at me in a concerned manner.
I love Bill Bryson and have read nearly all his books as well.
I recently re-read Notes from a small Island and laughed at exactly the same bits I’d found amusing almost 20 years ago.
H is for: heavy going
I have five devices I can use to listen to audio books. They use a variety of speeds – but none of them can make a book, or a narrator sound interesting if they’re not!
Recently I had to abandon three books (I won’t name them) because the plot was heavy going – or too slow for me to commit to.
The same goes for narrators.
I’ve abandoned a book which could have been really good, if the narrator had injected some enthusiasm (or even a change of tone) into reading it.
I is for: Impossible to choose
How do you choose which book to read next?
I’ve written down a whole file of books, narrators, topics, names and authors to choose from. I like to pick something or someone in the manner a lot of people pick horses in the Grand National.
This has meant I’ve read things I might not have considered reading before – from children’s books to a book about Labradors by Ben Fogle (another book I’d highly recommend)
I also love the website Good Reads where you can recommend books – and find books and authors similar to each other.

J is for: Jeremy Paxman
I have always adored Jeremy Paxman. I was actually sitting next to him at the BBC once when I went for an audition for a quiz and was waiting in reception – but I was too star-struck to chat to him.
I read A Life in Questions earlier this year and it was one of the most interesting and enlightening books I’ve read.
He narrated it himself, which is fantastic, as most celebrities or famous people don’t do this.

Next time: more narrators, books and authors I’d like to recommend.
Please may I take this opportunity to ask you to consider helping me with a fundraising challenge.
I’m hoping to raise £1500 for a talking book to be recorded for children through the RNIB.
The cost covers narrator fees admin and other costs – but will have a dedication at the beginning to the Canton and Ely talking book challenge.
Every little helps- so please give whatever you feel you are able to – and share as far and wide as you can.
You can visit:
http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cantonelytalkingbook

my first ever tube journey with a guide dog

I’ve travelled – a lot. I’ve done a work placement in Australia at a radio station, walked with lions in Zimbabwe and scaled the dizzying heights of Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand.
But, up until last week I hadn’t been on the London underground with my guide dog, by myself!
The mere idea of it made my underarms drip with absolute dread!
I’ve been on the tube, lots of times, but I was always with someone else, or just with my white cane.
Now to some people, especially people who use white canes that’ll sound strange.
How is it different being with a guide dog, to relying on a cane?
It’s complicated, and very simple at the same time.
A cane can be pulled out to its full length, in turn showing people that I am in need of some assistance.
It can, if needed trip people up (admittedly I’ve only done this once)!
Jimmey, as you may know is my third guide dog. He’s my first boy and incredibly outgoing and sociable (like I am) but he can also feel incredibly unconfident and needs reassurance (like I do at times)
It’s not just me I need to worry about with a dog, it’s both of us, which doubles the anxiety I sometimes feel.
So, I did what any normal person would do in this current climate – I took to twitter.
I asked how one would go about doing a tube journey with a guide dog.
Will I be helped? Would they abandon me half-way through my journey? Would I actually end up where I wished to go?
A wonderful lady *who I’ve never met, and probably never will, although I’d like to), called Amy assured me that it would be fine – and it was.
Amy doesn’t have a guide dog yet, but she regularly blogs about her adventures with a cane, including tube dramas and triumphs.
In fact, I actually enjoyed it – which really surprised me.
Not that I’m keen to repeat the experience any time soon, nor would I be happy to do a journey by tube on a daily basis) but some kind reassuring words from a stranger made me do something I’ve never done – and that, in my opinion is a very good thing indeed!

you can follow my adventures in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Nicki’s adventures in bookland

When I was doing my English literature A level, we had to read – a lot!
Now I’ve been a prolific reader since the day I learned the last component of grade 2 braille, and would devour anything and everything.
Even now |I’m rarely found without at least two books on various listening devices.
So, I applied the same ferocity to reading the texts for our A level.
It was then that I discovered my favourite book so far – Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
Now, if you haven’t read this phenomenal book (and I would urge you to download it/buy it straight after you’ve read this blog) it is the best thing I’d ever read.
Tess is slightly marmitish, you either cry over her appalling treatment by most of the men in her life, or you just want to grab her and shout: “Get a grip love, you hate your life, OK, but change it and stop whining!”
I cried when I read it – and I still can’t read it or even consider the ending without my bottom lip wobbling.
I won’t say too much about it in case you haven’t read it, but it says a lot about the church in Victorian times and rural life.
Tess finally fights back, but the unanswered question she asks Angel Clare still has the power to haunt me when I re-read it.

I’d like to say the same about the other main text we had to read – but I can’t, because I hated every page of it.
So, what was the book which almost made me leave the course?
Pride and prejudice by Jane Austin.
What rubbish!
The other people on my course loved it, although this might have had more to do with the fact that there was also a dramatized version at the time on the telly where Colin Firth unrobed himself and jumped into the water.
Even with audio description it did nothing for me!
I guess I’m just not that into Jane Austin!
This is the start of a series I’m calling Nicki’s adventures in book land!
Periodically (as I’m a very busy person) I’ll write about books that changed, or didn’t change my life.
If you’d like to donate to my justgiving page, where I’m trying to raise £1500 to sponsor a children’s book, please do so.
It’s at:
http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cantonelytalkingbook
or follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
What are your favourite books, or books which you had to read, or were recommended and didn’t like!

Blind faith

I didn’t realise I had a ‘problem’ until I was 28. I was sitting in a job interview which I thought had gone quite well. ‘Of course Nicki,’ said the employer (who I’m not naming out of kindness), ‘You must realise that anyone who employs you is going to have a problem because you’re blind!’
I was shocked! I politely informed him I could do any job, apart from maybe fighting in the army, but he was unmoved. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Tough times
I’ve been blind since birth, but until that day it hadn’t mattered to me. I’d had two summer jobs while at university. Then, after graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a contemporary arts degree, I took part in lots of fundraising challenges for local and national charities. I’d done everything from sky-diving to a half-marathon, but finding work was very hard.
I attended a church in Llandudno and had lots of friends there. I went to a Bible study group with a wonderful lady and each week we prayed for me to find a job. My prayers were answered in 2010 when I started working for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in Bangor.
In the October of that year, Dad was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He had his first operation in March 2011, the same week my contract ended at the RNIB. Then in July 2011, my friend Claire from church asked me if I’d like to go on Beach Mission with her in Llandudno. I’d never considered this before but thought it would be fun. I went to church and Bible study every week, what could possibly go wrong!
Life-changing words
I arrived on the Saturday, and the first thing I noticed was the vast majority of people on the team were a lot younger than I was. Secondly, there were no off-duty activities a blind person could take part in, so I felt ignored most of the time. I tried to join in as much as I could, but it wasn’t easy. After another day of feeling ignored, I rang my Bible study friend and said I couldn’t carry on with the Beach Mission. She told me to give it one more day, then if I still didn’t like it, she’d take me home.
That evening, I went along to a meeting on Llandudno prom. There, one of the teenage workers gave his testimony. It was in the form of a question and answer, and one of the questions was, ‘How did you become a Christian?’
I can’t remember the whole answer, but the last sentence was the one which changed my life. He said, ‘I suddenly realised that Jesus Christ was the only one who could help me!’
I burst into tears and turned to my friend, Roselyn. Between gulps, I said, ‘That’s the bit I’ve never done! I’ve never asked Jesus to come into my life and help me, do you think he can?’
The team leader noticed something was wrong and came and sat with me. I poured my heart out to him, how I felt so worthless sometimes, and all the comments I’d had because I was blind. He gave me a CD of John’s gospel and told me to listen to it. Normally I would just put the CD under a pile of papers and forget about it, but on that night I felt compelled to listen it – that’s the Holy Spirit for you! As soon as I reached John chapter 9, where Jesus heals a man born blind, I started crying again, but this time it was with hope! Jesus loved blind people! He cared enough to give them their sight.
Blind faith
The first three verses were, and still are so powerful when I hear them.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’(John 9:1-3).
I realised that as Jesus healed a blind man so that his life could be used to show God’s glory, so my blindness also came from God and was purposed by God to be a blessing both to me and to others. I also realised that just as Jesus showed such mercy to someone who society shunned as a nuisance, he would show that same mercy to me.
I asked Jesus to come into my life – and I’ve never looked back! I was still blind, but I knew I was a child of God and no longer felt I had to worry about what other people thought of me. I’d like to say it has been a totally exciting ride not without dramas! But everyone reading this will know there’s no such thing, even for Christians.
Two weeks later Dad went into a deep depression, brought on by his cancer diagnosis and the fact he’d been so strong during his treatment. I hated seeing my Dad go from a confident, outgoing man to someone who was scared a lot of the time. Then, after returning from volunteering at a Christian radio station in Perth, Australia I had just started a broadcast journalism course at Cardiff University when my lovely Dad, whom I was incredibly close to, died from secondary cancer.
I really struggled, as the people on my course, untouched by death, ignored my grief rather than helped me. But I had two things they didn’t — a guide dog, who sat with me while the silent tears fell, and a guide God who made his presence felt throughout.
The future’s in his hands
I moved to Cardiff three years ago for work and while waiting for my third guide dog I took comfort from the book of James. I love the way James talks about trials, and how they are sent to teach us patience. Dog number three arrived, and his name is… James!
Even though I am still unemployed after having been out of work for three years and I have no idea what the future holds, I know it is all in God’s plans, which are only good and right. Each time I receive a rejection after an interview, I know it is strengthening me for what God has planned for me.
Dad had a favourite hymn which he could still quote even when very poorly. I am so grateful that God doesn’t change and will stay with me forever, guiding me through this life and into the next.
How good is the God we adore!
Our faithful, unchangeable friend:
His love is as great as his power,
And knows neither measure nor end.

For Christ is the first and the last;
His Spirit will guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come.

You can contact me through twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly