The scene is set for reading in the peace and quiet.
This week's reader "grew up on a busy dairy farm in East Tyrone (near Stewartstown) and as children we spent much of our time helping out on the farm or in the garden. I am the second eldest of four children so I was given plenty of responsibilities to help around the house while my Mum worked outside with Dad. I'm still living in a busy household, married to a pig farmer and together, we have three children, aged 6, 9 and 11."
Sandra Overend, MLA for Mid-Ulster, is also the UUP's passionate economy spokesperson, working to create "a better environment for businesses to grow and succeed, to develop more exports, to encourage foreign direct investment". Sandra is a smart, dedicated, energetic country girl at heart.
Not content with being an expert mother/MLA/farmer, multi-tasker Sandra is also one of this series' multi-book readers. "I think I read as a little escape from my day to day life, and often find that I'm in a better mood, if I have a book on the go; it keeps me balanced. Leading such a busy life as an MLA it is more and more difficult to find time to read and when I'm heading to bed around midnight, I'll be lucky to get a book opened at all. But often reading is the only way to get my brain switched off from work mode - dear help my husband, I hear you say!"
Books are part and parcel of Sandra's routine. As a child trips to the library were a family affair: her parents were keen to show her that as far as reading choices were concerned, the sky was the limit. To Sandra, reading was never a forced curricular activity; it was a natural way to spend time.
"My parents are both very much outdoors-loving people and I can remember my Dad saying to me, as a child, to 'get outside into that sunshine, instead of sitting there reading!' Despite these comments, my parents very much encouraged me to read and my favourite place to read was curled up in bed before going to sleep at night. I loved reading as a child, and remember going through series of books - when I found a particular type of book that I enjoyed, I'd continue reading all the books by that author - I've read all Enid Blyton's Famous Five books - in fact when my older brother and my cousins and I got together in the summer we often thought we were the Famous Five! ... It didn't matter how many of us there were! Joke books were also a big thing for me. Yes, I can still visualise my favourite joke book - the front cover was yellow and had a picture of a giraffe and said, 'why does a giraffe have such a long neck?' (Because its head is so far from its body - do you get it?) Yes, I read and re-read that book until I actually 'got' all the jokes!"
Naturally gifted for maths, Sandra followed an academic path deprived of 'compulsory' literature, which interestingly opened her mind to a fascinating mixture of eclectic topics and genres. Sandra's parents had already helped her to develop and nurture a healthy reading mind, so her choosing A Level maths did not repress her love of reading. On the contrary.
Crucially, not having to read gave her the freedom to become a true reader.
There were no good and bad books per se and no section of libraries and bookshops were out of bounds. "I remember going through High School and struggled to enjoy some of the books we had to read in English, but I always had other books on the go. We made regular trips to the library, just like I do now, with my own children. I shouldn't probably admit to reading 'Sweet Valley High' books - you know the type of stories where the girls are off having adventures at boarding school! I was more of a maths student, rather than English, taking Maths at 'A' Level. However, I do remember being influenced by some of the literature studied by my friends at school at that time - I had quotations from literature posted on my bedroom wall, where I studied, and scribbled over my folders to inspire me! Looking back, I wish I had taken more of an interest in English literature at that time."
By the time Sandra enrolled at the University of Ulster to read Business Studies and Accountancy, she was devouring Maeve Binchy's complete works. "There must be something about Irish writers as I then moved on to others such as Sharon Owens and then Frank Delaney's fictional thrillers, 'The Amethysts' and 'Desire & Pursuit'. I remember reading 'The Beach' by Alex Garland, insisting on reading the book before I watched the movie in 2000. Which was better? The book, by far! In recent times I've enjoyed one of Northern Ireland's own authors, Colin Bateman - I love reading a fictional story with little pieces of true familiarity; references to places and people in Northern Ireland, and Colin has a fantastic wit that I enjoy. I remember buying one of Bateman's books: 'I Predict a Riot: Murder, Extortion and Carrot Cake' as a present for my husband but he refused to read it, thinking it wasn't his type of book and, not wanting to waste my purchase, I read it myself, and since, have enjoyed many of Bateman's books! "
Colin Bateman, in a 'Meet the Author' video, describes 'I Predict a Riot' as "a vast soap opera of a novel with a murder at its core. (...) It's a romantic comedy. It's a crime novel, with several surreal moments in it. There's even a graphic novel chapter." I find it exciting to listen to the author's take on his own novel and you can hear the rest on the Meet the Author website.
Sandra read all the Irish literature she could absorb at university, and when motherhood duties took over her life, she was ready to divert her focus onto children's literature. "As a mum of three young children, a lot of my reading has been out loud to the children. I have loved encouraging my children to read, and they all enjoyed sitting on my knee listening to stories when they were little. (...) Books that I've read and re-read are all the children's stories. I especially enjoyed 'The Gruffalo', and 'Room on the Broom' by Julia Donaldson, and 'The Fantastic Mr Fox' by Roald Dahl (of course, we had to read that book before we watched the movie!). Our house is coming down with books of all sorts and I often find all three of my children curled up in bed reading, instead of sleeping! " It looks to me like the little Overend apples have fallen right under the tree! Nurturing reading habits from a young age really is key to making a positive difference in children's lives.
Not only has Sandra been helping her husband on the farm and raising a family, she has also built a successful political career representing Mid-Ulster for the Unionist Party. Her grounding reading reference, guiding her through the most important decisions of her private and political life, is the Bible, which she often turns to "for advice and guidance in my life. My political career is only just a part of my life. Yes, it takes up a large proportion of my time but I have huge responsibilities as a mother and wife, a daughter, sister and friend and this juggling act that I am living is only possible through faith and trust that God is with me, guiding me."
This week, Sandra is reading Michael McIntyre's 'Life & Laughing'. "My sister loaned me this book as she knows I'm going to see his show in the autumn. I can hear his voice as I read and he's a funny guy. I'm enjoying it so far; it's a lovely escape at the moment. - I wonder: will the book be better than the show!? Other books on my bedside table include 'My Northern Ireland 2012' which I'll take a look at when thinking about taking our family out for the day, and 'Just give me a little piece of quiet' by Lorilee Craker. Of course, daily reads in the office include the daily and weekly newspapers and political and business magazines. I never have enough time to read as much as I would like!" Her favourite quote from McIntyre's book: "I'll have to get to bed to find an answer to this one!"
When I looked at Sandra's list of favourite books, one particularly caught my attention, partly because I have heard of it but have yet to read it. Over the Easter break, Sandra read 'Sister' by Rosamund Lupton, a present from her husband. A poignant story of sisterly love, illness, death and heartache, the New York Times describes the story as "both tear-jerking and spine-tingling. (...) 'Sister' provides an adrenaline rush that could cause a chill on the sunniest afternoon -- which, perhaps, the friendly company of a sister or two (or, in a pinch, a brother) might help to dispel."
I had barely finished perusing the review that I knew 'Sister' would be my next read. A tale of opposite siblings, one safe, one risk-taking, one conservative, one footloose and fancy-free, raised my interest. The NY Times continues: "In 'Sister' Lupton puts the bonds connecting two distant and seemingly dissimilar siblings under the microscope. The elder, Beatrice, 26, bossy and cautious, has left her mother and sister behind in England to live in New York, where she has acquired a sensible, dull corporate job and a sensible, dull fiancé. Her free¬spirited younger sister, Tess, 21, lives in London, where she floats around painting abstract canvases, befriending stray cats and cash-challenged foreigners, and having love affairs with unsuitable people."
'Sister' transported Sandra to another world and made her realise that she needed to go on imaginary travels more often. And she has a plan: "(I) will probably borrow my daughter's new Kindle when she's not looking! (...) So far, I've always been a book fan, but I do love gadgets. I have an iPad but haven't felt comfortable reading books on it. But since I bought my daughter a Kindle very recently, I'm very tempted to buy one for myself - I think it might make it easier to read anywhere, and to read more. Also, now that I use glasses for reading I could enlarge the typeface and read in bed without glasses!"
I would like to close this article with a quote from 'Sister', dedicated to my friend Mags. In an email to Bee, Tess says: "You are my sister in every fiber of my being," Bee thinks to herself. "And that fiber is visible -- two strands of DNA twisted in a double helix in every cell of my body -- proving, visibly, that we are sisters."
If you have sibling stories with a literary twist, I would love to read them.