Advent Reading

This week my main bookish delight has actually been a cookbook – which is unusual for me. I love to bake but rarely make the time for it – there are so many other things going on!

This particular book though is Advent by Anja Dunk and is a collection of ‘festive German bakes to celebrate the coming of Christmas’. I love the Advent season, as things slowly get more Christmassy and we spend more evenings curled up by the fire with books and delicious things to eat. Reading this book has definitely brought me that cosy, hygge feeling – the author has included lots of personal anecdotes as well as recipes – and I have been loving it.

I have only baked one thing so far – the Dattel-Walnussmakronen – but they were the most delicious thing. So light and airy, but still rich and chewy. They are incredibly moreish and I will be indulging in some this evening when I start my card writing. More recipes will definitely be tried soon!

Finding Lark Rise

I have stayed in Dartmouth many, many times and I thought I knew all about its literary connections (Agatha Christie, Christopher Robin…) but it turns out that there really is always something to learn. Flora Thompson lived there from 1928 to 1940 and in fact wrote Lark Rise to Candleford there.

I discovered this purely by chance when we were booking our cottage – we stayed in a house called Larkrise and when I Googled ‘Larkrise Dartmouth’ I got several results about Flora Thompson. Of course, I had to do a bit of research then and find out all I could! Once we were there I made sure I found the house where she lived and although I didn’t get to her grave (with a book shaped headstone) this year I will make sure I do next time.

Lark Rise had been on my TBR for years so naturally I had to take it with me. My copy is such a lovely little book and it felt wonderful carrying it about with me – and reading it in the places Flora would have known. I have always loved taking books back to their roots and it is definitely something I can recommend.

Recharging

Having just spent a week away in Dartmouth I have been reminded once again just how good reading is for me. I had been feeling pretty stressed and wound up and that time away – where I did very little other than read, walk and paint – was exactly what I needed.

I rediscovered all my old reading haunts and even found some new ones. Just sitting on the rocks away from the hurly burly of life is a wonderful balm for the soul.

Also lovely were the evenings. On several days I sat out until it was too dark to read and was very grateful for the warmth of the flat when I got back. Then I could settle down with hot chocolate and my book or a board game and watch all the lights of the harbour. Bliss.

Christie Immersion

Over the past couple of days I have been exploring round Dartmouth and enjoying it very much. There are so many gorgeous houses on the edges of the town – and over the river around Kingswear – and what with those and the palm trees I feel as if I am in an Agatha Christie novel. I can practically see people walking to tennis parties. This is the heart of Agatha Christie country after all

Unfortunately whenever I am here there seems to be an awful lot of building work going on. The walls and fences springing up around those houses make them look more like fortresses and I am convinced they looked much more welcoming in their heyday. I appreciate that the owners don’t want people all over their lawns but four private notices on one gateway does seem excessive. All the pretty blocked up gateways make me very sad too – and it doesn’t help at all that most of the houses are not lived in all year round.

However, I try not to dwell on that and just enjoy the sea air and gorgeous views. I neglected to take a Christie book with me but I did have A Tourist’s Guide to Murder by V M Burns which – completely fortuitously – involves a trip to Dartmouth and so was very appropriate. It is definitely the perfect place for reading cosy crime.

Cosy Reading

Now that the evenings are most definitely dark all I want to do is hibernate. By which I mean light the fire, light the candles and curl up with hot chocolate and a book. Or sometimes a nice cosy film.

Of course, that isn’t actually an option but I do manage to get a good number of cosy evenings which most definitely help. I have brought my copy of Imagining Anne – the book of L M Montgomery’s scrapbooks from Prince Edward Island – back down to the living room and am devouring it by candlelight as it should be read.

It just wasn’t getting read upstairs (it’s a bit big for bedtime reading!) and that was making me very sad as it is a gorgeous book which I really did want to read. The pages from the scrapbooks are beautiful and absorbing and I lose myself in them.

The lesson for this week is clearly not to take coffee table type books away from coffee tables!

Vanity Fair

Whilst I was away I was ploughing my way through Vanity Fair. This is a book which has sat on my TBR for years and which has always intimidated me so I hadn’t picked it up to read before. The size of it wasn’t an issue but I think I was worried that I wouldn’t like any of the characters and so wouldn’t enjoy the book. That would more than likely make me struggle to read it.

However, I was determined to give it a go and being away at a book festival seemed like the perfect time to do so. I started it on the train to Cheltenham and really I didn’t want to put it down again! Every spare moment I had I was reading it and I had such a good time doing so. It is much easier reading than I had anticipated and also funny which was unexpected.

It was true that I did not especially like many of the characters – although my liking for them was constantly changing – but for once that didn’t matter so much and I was just caught up in the story. In fact, it was poor Amelia – a character who is very good and dutiful – who at times irritated me far more than manipulative Becky Sharp.

Hopefully I will learn a lesson from this and not put off reading a book for quite so long again.

Cheltenham Haul

I am finally home from the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I am utterly exhausted but I had the most amazing time and I am already planning and hoping for next year. To be so completely immersed in books was just wonderful.

In the end I was relatively restrained when it came to book buying. Two event books – The Book Smugglers and The Boy at the Back of the Class which I have been meaning to read for so long – plus Agatha Oddly and Wishyouwas. Agatha Oddly is another book I have been intrigued by for a while but one I have never seen in person and Wishyouwas was brand new and irresistible. There were many, many more books I could have bought, most especially The Murderer’s Ape which a colleague raved about but which sold out before I bought it. I will definitely be getting hold of a copy soon though.

I did however also buy a couple of tote bags because I just couldn’t resist them. Not that I don’t already have plenty of those!

I loved being at Cheltenham and I was very sad to leave it all behind me. On the other hand, it is very good to be home and back in my own space. The rain is simply pelting down outside and I am curled up by the fire. Evenings don’t get much better than that.

Cheltenham Part Two

Now that Cheltenham Literature Festival is open – and actually more than half over which is sad – I have had a bit of a chance to catch my breath. Of course, I am still working very hard but not for quite so long each day – and I am revelling in the festival atmosphere. There is nothing quite like drinking tea and reading my book surrounded by other people who love books just as much as I do. It is an added bonus that the leaves are just starting to turn so everywhere is looking simply beautiful and autumnal.

I have even managed to get to a few talks but for me the highlights so far have definitely been meeting Anna James and Onjali Rauf and getting my books signed. They are both just the nicest people – and Onjali made my day when I saw her again later and she remembered my name! It is wonderful to see children so excited by books too – there were little girls clutching piles of books and literally skipping away from Anna James’ signing. It made me so happy!

Perhaps my favourite part of each day though is when I finish each evening. I’m normally very tired but I treat myself to a hot chocolate, find myself a bench and just sit and read for an hour or so. It is the best way to end the day and soak up every last bit of festival atmosphere.

Cheltenham!

I am back at the Cheltenham Literary Festival – this time to work rather than as a visitor. Much like Appledore a couple of weeks ago, the work is physically very demanding and I am covered in scrapes and bruises but I am having so much fun.

Of course, the festival doesn’t open until Friday so we are still all about setting up. It is great to see behind the scenes but unfortunately I have already come across several books I would love to buy… I definitely need to set myself a budget.

Despite all the work though I am managing to make time to appreciate Cheltenham itself. Things like having lunch in the park at my favourite tea shop. After all, reading time is very important at a book festival!

Comfort Watching

I am very sad that the book festival is over but I am definitely appreciating the shorter working days and even some time off. I feel as if I could sleep all day! The festival was wonderful, although interestingly my two main highlights were more related to watching stories on screen than reading them myself. The first of these was getting to meet Hayley Mills – she gave a great talk and I was completely starstruck.

Second was meeting Andrew Davies. He was such a nice man and he too gave a fascinating talk. We had a lovely chat afterwards and he even signed my copy of The Making of Pride and Prejudice – which has been very well read!

Period dramas have really been helping me through the past few weeks. I have been exhausted when I get home and have just been collapsing on the sofa and watching an hour or so of something. It started with the Andrew Davies adaptation of Sense and Sensibility which I don’t think I have seen since it first came out. I loved it even more on a second viewing and it is definitely one I will be keeping for the future. Since then I have watched the Kate Beckinsale Emma – which I love for having Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – and two different versions of Persuasion. The Amanda Root and CiarĂ¡n Hinds one is still easily my favourite.

Then I moved on to Mansfield Park and watched the version with Billie Piper. Again, I only saw this when it was first shown and I remember enjoying it. This time, I was constantly saying, ‘Fanny wouldn’t do that… That’s not right… Where are they going now?’ It seemed to have taken the characters, changed them a bit and thrown them into a similar – but not quite the same – story. After that I had to watch the 1983 adaptation with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell which was much more recognisable as the story from the book and is the version I will watch again. I have still not seen the 1999 version – I feel as if I should but it has always sounded as if I wouldn’t like it much!

Now I am running out of dramas. I have Wives and Daughters to start soon – I loved the book but have never watched it before. After that I don’t know where I will go next. Maybe a rewatch of Anne of Green Gables or North and South but I’m open to suggestions. I do have Vanity Fair lined up but I need to read the book first – I’m planning to start it in the next few days and am very much looking forward to it.