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Mud & Marriage: A Housebuilding Adventure Paperback – 1 Oct 2014
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In 2005 Mandy Clark and her husband John embarked on a journey to build their own home. After having safely paddled over the tumultuous breakers of planning consent, they bravely decided to manage the project themselves. After steering out into the open and uncharted waters of building regulations, subcontractors and finance, with its gale-force winds, storms and calm days as well as those glorious but rare plain-sailing days, they were taken to the crest of building hell and back; but they survived, despite getting a bit weathered along the way and moved into their house in 2008. Mandy was site manager and kept a diary throughout the build which led to the writing of her book Mud & Marriage - A Housebuilding Adventure. It's a useful guide for anyone thinking of embarking on a self-build, and a frank and often humorous insight into John and Mandy's lives as they build a house and a life together.
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This book appealed to me because the blurb said it's about a self-build, with all its ups and downs, and I used to love watching programmes like Grand Designs.
Although Mandy Clark writes well, I had a furrowed brow throughout this; my problem was that I couldn't work out if it was meant to be a lighthearted domestic memoir or a factual book for use by other self-builders. The first 10% of the book is taken up with Mandy's own domestic situation: the problems of being a stepmother (very honest and relatable!), a detailed account of her wedding day and a fair amount of information about the people in the village where she and her husband live. The parts about the gentleman with Alzheimer's were both amusing and touching throughout; a big 'bravo' for that. Next, we moved on to Mandy's IVF and art work. Amongst this is some detail about their housing problems, and getting planning permission to build a house on a piece of village land.
The build started in earnest when the bottom of my screen said about 30%. Here my confusion grew: the book contains too much domestic and often quite personal detail for someone buying it for the purpose of comparison with their own self-build experience (or to get tips), but too much building information for a domestic style memoir. I'd looked forward to reading about the building of the house; much of it was to-do lists and weighing up of financial pros and cons, an account of what they were hoping/planning to do, then how successful it was. There are some quite funny bits here and there, but writing up practical procedures in such a way that they hold the attention is extremely difficult.
I think this would have been better as a series of blog posts, with pictures, rather than a book, so you could see the progress, and really get to know the characters. It's chatty, the people likable, but I feel its current form has limited appeal. Publishing one's diary is always a challenge: can you make your life sound interesting enough to capture the interest of a total stranger?
Sorry not to give a higher star rating, but the 3* represent the fact that the writing is very accessible, the domestic parts pleasant to read, and I do think it contains value for anyone who is embarking on a similar venture.
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