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Jessie Cahalin Chats with Anne Williams

Spotlight on the Lovely Anne Williams

Meet lovely Anne Williams in 1958

Anne Williams is a shining light in the bookish community and is a best friend to authors, bloggers and readers. Her kind and generous spirit is remarkable, and it is no wonder she has won many awards. I was intrigued to know more about Anne and what inspired her love of reading. Having invited Anne to my Bloggers’ Café, we settled down for a good chat about her childhood memories, reading and her life in Cardiff. We shared a pot of tea for two and a generous plate of Welsh cakes. We chatted for hours and she gave me some tantalizing facts about her life.
Jessie: Anne you work tirelessly to support authors, and we don’t know what we would do without your support. I’d like you to relax, have a cuppa and tell us more about yourself. Tell us about your childhood in Bangor and your fondest memories. Do you speak Welsh?
Anne: Lovely of you to say so, Jessie – while it’s lovely to be able to give authors my support and a bit of exposure, it’s got more to do with the fact that I just love books and reading, and love talking about them whenever I get the chance!

The view from her parents’ house in Port Dinorwic

I actually come from a small village between Bangor and Caernarfon: in those days it was called Port Dinorwic (it’s where they used to load and ship the slate from the quarry), but it’s now been renamed Y Felinheli. I don’t speak Welsh, sadly – although my dad came from the village, my mum was from Swansea and an English-speaker, so we never spoke Welsh at home. I can understand conversations though, translate things into English and watch the occasional programme on S4C.
My memories are all about family really. We lived in a converted schoolhouse until my O-level year (that’s what people took before GCSEs!), when we moved to mum and dad’s new-build dream house, overlooking the Menai Straits. I had a brother, Nigel, who was eight years younger than me – and was the constant pain little brothers often are (very sadly, he died a few years ago from a heart attack – by then, we were friends again). After we moved house, all I can really remember is an awful lot of studying – I desperately wanted to read English at university (I got there!) and to spread my wings a little.
Jessie: Did your parents inspire your love of reading? If not, who did inspire the beginning of your reading journey?

Anne loves the quote from Maya Angelou – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Anne: My mother’s always been a reader and taught me to read and enjoy books before I started at the village school aged 3 (maybe I was a bit of a prodigy!). I remember us having floor to ceiling bookshelves in the alcoves in the lounge: I read the books, my brother used them as a climbing assault course. And then I had my library ticket and can remember looking forward to choosing my five books a week into my late teens. I was always the child who preferred to sit in the corner with a book rather than get involved in the rowdy stuff – I was also painfully shy, and I think the books were a bit of an escape (and they probably still are!).
Jessie: You told me you lived in Cardiff thirty years ago. What was Cardiff like three decades ago. Where did you like to go? Were there lots of bookshops? What advice would you give to your younger self living in Cardiff?

This is the Cardiff that Anne remembers
Anne:I went to university in Hull, did my growing up and really didn’t want to go back to a small village – and I didn’t have to because I joined the Civil Service and they posted me to Cardiff. I was in my twenties, remember – reading took a bit of a back seat (the need to dissect and analyse had dampened my book enthusiasm a little) while I got on with having fun with friends and discovering the opposite sex. I don’t remember book shops – at that time, I was keener on music and searching out vinyl, and there was a great shop on the Hayes (long gone) where I spent many happy hours. I spent a lot of time in and around the Chapter Arts Centre in Canton – at that time it was a pretty amateur set up, but a great place to see obscure art-house films, wander the gallery, eat vegetarian food (rather exotic at the time!) and to meet friends in the bars. There were the many clubs and bars too, of course – a couple of hours’ sleep was plenty then, and the hangovers weren’t as bad. It was the era of the New Romantics, and I do remember a few outings to the Casablanca in the Docks – and the many places where you could get happy hour cocktails (not a modern phenomenon). Advice? I wouldn’t have listened anyway…!
Jessie: You visited Cardiff recently. How has Cardiff changed?

Anne sat in this coffee shop in Cardiff Bay. This place is very different to her memories of the Docks in the era of the New Romantics.
Anne: While all the landmarks are still there, it’s really changed beyond all recognition. The city centre I remember is no more, totally swallowed up by that enormous shopping centre – but it was nice to see that the quirky arcades have been cared for and are still full of those fascinating little shops and cafes. Docklands was a bit of a no-go area back in the 80s, and that’s certainly changed – and I very much liked the new waterfront development. They always say you shouldn’t go back though, don’t they?
Jessie: Do you miss Wales now that you live in Yorkshire?
Anne: I haven’t lived in Wales since the mid-80s – I lived in Wigan, worked in Manchester, for over ten years before I moved here. I visited North Wales regularly when my parents still lived there, but never had a hankering to return. I guess home is anywhere you can be happy, and I haven’t regretted for an instant making Yorkshire mine.
Jessie: I am in awe of the number of books you read and the quality of your reviews. How do you balance reviewing and blogging with the rest of your life? How long does it take to review a book?
Anne: Thank you! When I was still working, I’ll admit it was difficult – I have the greatest admiration for bloggers who can balance life, work and blogging – and I only took things up a gear after I retired. There was a time when it seemed to have become my new full-time job: I’ve eased off a little with the need to care for my mother, and three or four posts a week now feels about right. My reviews take ages, if I’m honest – I’m a bit of a perfectionist and want every review to be as good and complete as I can make it. I probably spend four mornings a week writing posts, and then a little more supporting others on Twitter, being sociable on-line, and doing the necessary admin. The reading’s no hardship – I’m not really much of a TV watcher so I read in the evenings and in bed and can sometimes manage an occasional treat of an afternoon.
Jessie:What makes a good review? Do you have a review structure, or does it depend on the book and your inspiration?
Anne:I don’t really know what makes a good review, but I do seem to have accidentally landed on a shape that works for me, and hopefully for others. I rarely tell the story – I get annoyed when I find myself doing so, because the author does it so much better. And I’m quite paranoid about spoilers – totally unforgivable, and not really that difficult to avoid. My reviews are really just my personal reaction to a book: I’ll mention whatever I particularly liked (and sometimes things I liked less), but the emphasis is always on how a book made me feel. And the only reviews you’ll ever see on Being Anne are of books I’ve enjoyed – I don’t enjoy everything, but then I stop reading and pick up another.
Jessie: You must receive lots of books in the post. Where do you store all the review copies you receive?
Anne: Do you know, I actually don’t receive that much book post these days – I’ve asked the publishers I work with to stop sending them. My eyesight is worsening with age, and I find it so much easier to read on my kindle – but don’t ask me how many books are in my kindle library! Although a lot of the books I read are gifted or downloaded from netgalley, I can’t resist buying even more – probably at least twice as many as I receive. I had my bedrooms decorated last year, and decided I needed to do something about my 4000+ unread books, spread over half a dozen bookshelves. Most went to the library, and some to charities, and it really didn’t hurt (much) – I now have just one (large) bookshelf for my signed copy collection.
Jessie: Besides reading, what other hobbies do you have?
Anne: To be honest, I don’t really have other hobbies. I enjoy theatre, cinema, concerts (of all kinds, with a newly found love of classical), museums and galleries, and visit as often as I can – but everything else I do tends to be book and reading related, including running a real-life book club. For the last couple of years, I became an almost full-time carer for my mum, who has vascular dementia: now she’s being far better cared for in a home, I visit or take her out every other day, but I’m just getting used to the idea of having “spare time” again, and really must do something about revitalising my social life! I also always used to go on two major holidays a year – US, South America, Africa, the Far East – but that’s been just impossible recently. For now, I’ve decided to explore the UK a little – three book-related stays already planned for this year, and a few more I need to get round to sorting out.
Jessie: If you wrote a book what genre would you write in? Have you got any characters hassling you to tell their story? What names would you give you the leading characters?
Anne: I did have plans, didn’t I? I don’t think it’s ever likely to happen – and if it doesn’t, I don’t think I really want it enough. Genre-wise, I think it’d be women’s fiction – maybe romance, perhaps with some travel included, and definitely with older characters. But I’ve never really come up with a story that’s made me enthusiastic to develop it further – and I’ve definitely never got anywhere near coming up with names!
Jessie: Finally, is there a famous quotation about reading that resonates with you?
For instance, I often quote C.S Lewis:
‘We read to know we are not alone.’
Anne: Not really about books and reading, but I do love the quote from Maya Angelou – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that works pretty well for books too, doesn’t it?


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