Literary Loveliness

I have been having another wonderfully literary week. First up, on Saturday I got to attend the LM Montgomery Institute’s round table discussion on Rilla of Ingleside at 100. I have always loved the sound of the Institute’s conferences but as they are in Canada it has been impractical for me to get there. Since the pandemic forced them to hold the event online this year I finally got to attend and I am so glad I did.

It was such an interesting discussion. It took me a while to get round to reading Rilla because I was a bit scared it would be too distressing but it turned out to be a beautiful book and quickly became one of my favourites in the series. It was wonderful to hear such an academic conversation about it.

Then on Monday night I went to the Sevenoaks Bookshop’s online event with A J Pearce, talking about her new book Yours Cheerfully. I rhapsodised about that one a couple of weeks ago so I won’t do so again now other than to say I loved the book and was very excited to get to go to this event.

It was a great evening – A J Pearce seemed lovely and the conversation was fascinating. I was especially pleased to hear that more books will hopefully be in the pipeline. I can’t wait!

Finding Inspiration

I love to paint but I have realised that I need to find inspiration in the world around me in order to keep myself in a creative frame of mind. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia has a great quote about that feeling – how if you want to feel the motivation, ‘… you must feed it. Feed it everything. Books, television, movies, paintings, stage plays, real-life experience.’

I can definitely relate to that – I tend to work obsessively on something for a couple of weeks and then want to move on to something else. It is a very irritating trait and of course if I need to keep at something then I will but the joy has often gone out of it for me. In order to recapture it I need to watch videos and read around the subject.

Keeping my enthusiasm for painting isn’t that difficult but I still find it a useful technique. I often watch studio tours as I am nosy and I love seeing other people’s work spaces. Books though are obviously a big help for me. Not so much the how to books but ones where I can see other artists’ processes. Again – I am nosy and love to see inside sketchbooks. I recently read Chris Riddell’s Travels With My Sketchbook which I loved – that left me extra keen to draw for weeks!

Books like Eliza and Her Monsters are a great help too. Just reading about other people drawing and writing makes me remember why I love it and has me itching to pick up a pencil. The fact that it shows I am not alone when I face a creative block is no bad thing either.

Comforting Cosy Crime

Lately I have been reading a lot of cosy crime books. It has always been a favourite genre of mine but for the past week or so it’s been almost the only thing I want to read. The trouble is that – although I am always happy to re-read favourite books – at the moment I am very much feeling a need for new stories. I really want to experience the suspense which is never quite the same when you already know whodunnit!

I have therefore scoured my bookshelves for any unread cosy crime languishing in a corner (there was not a lot), borrowed another from my sister and, as I just had a week off work, I treated myself to a few holiday reads. The second book in the Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody (A Medal for Murder) was excellent and of course I thoroughly enjoyed The China Governess by Margery Allingham. I am getting alarmingly close to the end of that series though. I also read the first book in the Miss Seeton series by Heron Carvic – Picture Miss Seeton. At first I was very unsure about this one but I actually really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more.

Much of my time last week though was taken up with the Sophie Sayers series by Debbie Young – two novels and three novellas. I first discovered these books when Debbie spoke on a crime panel at the Crediton Book Festival last year – she spoke so well that I immediately had to buy the first book. I have been steadily working my way through them and am now almost up to date – I am very impatient to get my hands on the new book!

Right now I am in the middle of A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey. Again, it was pretty inevitable that I would enjoy this one. This is the last one I own that is unread though – a trip to the library is becoming very necessary. Any recommendations are welcome!

Book Festivals at Home

Once again, the Hay Festival is having to be held online this year. I am very much enjoying the flood of literary conversation – my favourite event so far has to be Graham Norton’s book club with Richard Osman and Marian Keyes.

Obviously, we would rather be there in person as however good the talks are it is not the same watching them on a screen at home. In a way though I am grateful. Although I have been to several book festivals I have never yet made it to Hay in person. Even if I did I would almost certainly not manage to get to as many talks as I see at home. I am so enjoying them and am very grateful that I happened – completely accidentally – to book a week’s holiday from work this week.

It has definitely also helped that that weather this week has been so fantastic. I have been able to spend a decent amout of time reading outside – just as if I were at the festival. I have perhaps spent more time out there than I should but I don’t regret it at all.

I can’t help hoping that even when book festivals are back in person there will still be an option to watch them online. It would open the talks up to a much larger group of people – last year the Cheltenham Festival had small in person audiences whilst still streaming online and that seemed to work very well. During this past year I have watched talks held all over the country and even in the US – talks I would certainly not have been able to attend in person. Having said that, I am so looking forward to being able to attend an actual book festival again.

In the meantime, I have plenty of talks lined up over the next few days. It is going to be great!

Book Review – Yours Cheerfully

One of the best days during lockdown was the one where I received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which contained a proof copy of Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce. I was ridiculously excited – I adored Dear Mrs Bird and just the fact that a sequel was coming was enough to make me happy, let alone having the book in my hands!

Publisher’s Blurb

London, September, 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty, and standing by her friends.

I loved it every bit as much as Dear Mrs Bird. I was immediately drawn back into Emmy’s world and I cared so much about what happened to her and her friends. I also still very much enjoyed the use of capital letters to emphasise Important Points. It is just the way words sound in my head!

The publicity for this book says that it is just the tonic we’ve all been waiting for and it really is. It is just as heartwarming and uplifting as Dear Mrs Bird and I did not want to stop reading when I got to the end. So much so that all I wanted to read for several days afterwards were books set during the war. I finished it in floods of tears – but only the best and happiest kind.

Yours Cheerfully is published on the 24th of June and I would highly recommend ordering yourself a copy. If you haven’t yet read Dear Mrs Bird – do so!

Book Details

Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 9781509853946

RRP: £14.99

Reading for a Rainy Afternoon

Yesterday being my day off, I took my pony out for a ride. It was a nice morning and, although I looked at the gathering clouds and could see rain was coming, I didn’t take a coat. That was a mistake.

The heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked. We had hail too and even some thunder just for good measure. We were passing under some trees at the time so that was somewhat unnerving! Before long I was freezing and feeling rather like Jane Bennet on her way to Netherfield.

When we finally got home I had to get completely changed and a thick cardigan and hot cup of tea were absolute essentials. All I wanted to do was curl up with a blanket and my book but instead I had to rush to my (zoom) orchestra rehearsal.

It was actually a very busy day for me – among other things I also had a zoom ballet class and plenty of work to do for my stationery shop. I did however make sure that I took some time during the (still very rainy) afternoon to sit down with my book and the best hot chocolate in the world.

I’m reading One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles) and absolutely loving it. Tired of the life of a débutante, Monica decided to take a post as a cook-general. She was not really qualified for it but that just makes this account of that time all the more amusing.

I am devouring this book and it was the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon – it didn’t ask too much of me and is highly entertaining. What could be better?

An Evening of Bookish Delights

I had the best bookish evening last night. It started with me rushing home to be back in time for the Pan Macmillan virtual roadshow for booksellers. This took us through a lot of their big titles coming out over the next few months and it was so interesting to hear the authors themselves talking about their books. My reading list just got a whole lot longer! We even got to draw with Rob Biddulph which was a lot of fun – and I was pretty pleased with the result!

Obviously the books were the main part of the evening but almost as important were the snacks that Pan Macmillan very kindly sent out to all attendees. I ate far too much!

That was followed immediately by my virtual book club meeting. It was lovely to see everyone again and to have a proper conversation about the books we’ve been reading. We always end up discussing far more books than just the one we read for the meeting and I love that.

All in all in was a lovely way to spend the evening and I am very much looking forward to the next time. I’m also now getting excited about the Hay Festival which will be held online in a couple of weeks. It is going to be great!

Revisiting Hogwarts

When Harry Potter was first published I was exactly the target age for it.  At the time I was always very proud of the fact that I was reading it before it was cool!  I have a very vivid memory of sitting on the edge of my bed devouring my library copy of Chamber of Secrets.  I’m fairly sure I was supposed to be doing something else – possibly sleeping – but I was too scared to stop reading.

After that I was hooked.  Book one was soon received as a Christmas present but I was made to wait for book three to come out in paperback before I was allowed that one.  By the time book four came around I was buying the hardbacks as soon as they were published.  I even went to my local bookshop’s midnight opening for the final book and stayed up all night to read it.

I grew up with the characters and so the books have remained close to my heart – despite any shortcomings I might be able to see now.  However, I do find that my emotional responses to them have changed.  As a teenager The Order of the Phoenix was my least favourite book – partly because the ending broke my heart (I cried a lot) and partly because Harry was just so angry all the time.  I found him incredibly annoying! 

These days I have a lot more patience with Harry.  I am currently listening to the audiobooks for the first time and having just finished book five I find that instead of  being annoyed with Harry I am angry with all the adults – and especially Dumbledore – myself. Why not tell Harry why he needed to learn occlumency? If he’d known he might have tried harder and even if it didn’t work he would have been prepared for the consequences. As far as I can see the only reason not to tell him is to enable the plot to develop as it did.

Neither can I see any real reason not to tell him earlier why he needs to stay with the Dursleys every summer. Since eleven year old Harry knew Voldemort wanted to kill him wouldn’t it have been comforting to know that he was safe as long as he spent some of each year in Privet Drive? Plus, of course it would have made being there just a bit more bearable.

All that aside, these books were a big part of my childhood and they are hugely nostalgic for me now. I am sure I will visit them again many times in the future. Do you have any childhood favourites with which you have a different relationship now?

Reading Schedules

When I was a child I was always reading multiple books at once. I would just pick up the closest book and read from where I had left off. I never got the stories muddled and it was just what worked for me.

As I grew up I was less likely to do that. Partly because I knew that if I was reading a difficult book and put it aside for something else the chances were it would be weeks before I picked it up again – if I ever did. Reading one book at a time was fine too but reading was less joyful – I would feel obliged to read a book I wasn’t really enjoying and so sometimes I wouldn’t read at all.

More recently still, multiple books are making an appearance again. They are mostly being read at set times but that’s okay too. I need something light and easy in the mornings (but not too gripping or it will make me late for work!). Currently that is Storm in the Village by Miss Read. On the other hand, the book I read in my breaks at work needs to be gripping without making me stressed – The White Riders by Monica Edwards is getting me through at the moment. Although, today I dropped that for yet another book – volume four of Heartstopper arrived and I couldn’t resist it!

For bedtime reading I just pick whatever I feel like at the time – which might be any one of the books I’m reading or something else entirely. I’ve just finished Ben Aaronovitch’s What Abigail Did That Summer which I loved so tonight I get to pick something new!

I’m also still working my way through Barnaby Rudge which has got pretty exciting and will be finished very soon. I can take my time with that one so, as my copy is a bit too fragile for bedtime reading, it is reserved for mealtimes – or any other time I manage to sit down and read.

This all sounds like an organised system but it really isn’t. It’s just what happens to be working right now. No doubt next week will be different again but for now I’m reading a lot of books and it’s making me very happy.

Seaside Reading

On Monday I had a day off work and decided to take advantage of the glorious weather we have been having by spending the afternoon at one of my favourite picnic spots up by the coast path. We had a late coffee and set off for a walk. Although it was short, it was the first proper walk I have had since the pandemic started and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy walking. The weather couldn’t have been better and we had a lovely time.

Back at the car we settled down for lunch and an afternoon of reading and staring out to sea. It is one of my favourite ways to spend a day and I have missed it!

I had two books with me this time – firstly I finished Pink Sugar which was the perfect picnic read. I loved it! Then I picked Barnaby Rudge back up. I have been reading it off and on for a couple of months as I am reading it with an online book club. The schedule made me start off by reading a chapter a day which I thought would be perfect but it turns out I just don’t read well that way. I think just one chapter isn’t enough time for me to immerse myself in the story and so I never really got invested in the characters. I realised that I much prefer to read big chunks at a time.

All of which meant that until Monday hadn’t actually picked it up for several weeks and I had got seriously behind schedule. After some intense reading on Monday though I am catching up and hopefully I will do so by the end of the week. I am certainly much more interested in the book now, although some of that is due to the fact that more exciting things are happening!

I had the best day reading and dreaming and I can’t wait to do it again.