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!

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?

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.

Starting the Day Right

With the shops reopening in England and Wales this week I am back working hard in the bookshop. It is good to talk to people about books again – and of course it is lovely to see all the books themselves and find new ones I want to read. Opening the boxes of new books just before we opened felt like Christmas!

However, it is still pretty stressful and I think it will take me a while to get used to actually meeting people again. I am developing ways to cope though and my favourite of course involves books.

I have never been great at getting up early so my breakfast is usually eaten in rushed mouthfuls while I’m also getting dressed. Not very relaxing! Now though I am making the effort to get up just ten minutes earlier so that once I’ve done all my stable chores I still have time to sit down with my breakfast and a book. It has become one of the best parts of my day and naturally makes me wonder why I didn’t make more time for it before!

Currently my breakfast reading is Pink Sugar by O Douglas and I am loving it. I haven’t read any of her books for some time now so I am almost rediscovering her all over again. I couldn’t be happier.

The Comforts of Middlebrow

Finding myself at the end of a book at the beginning of the Easter weekend, I was casting about on my unread shelves for my next read. I had recently finished Yours Cheerfully (more on that another time) and so for the first time in quite a while I was very much in the mood for some gentle mid-century middlebrow fiction.

I love these kinds of books. I can’t remember now whether I discovered D E Stevenson or O Douglas first but I do remember exactly how I found them. Stevenson was a recommendation from a friend (Miss Buncle’s Book was my first), Douglas was a serendipitous find when I was browsing in a charity bookshop (Jane’s Parlour). I adored them both and will now snatch up any of their books – or anything similar – which happen to come my way. Having said that, although I read Mrs Tim of the Regiment many years ago now, I had never got around to reading the rest of the books in the series. This weekend seemed like a good time to finally do so.

They were the perfect books for a long weekend. The weather was glorious (if a little chilly at times) and with very few other claims on my time I could properly indulge myself and read for hours. It was wonderful and I read through all three books. They are just as good as I remember the first book and I was made so happy by them. I was even pleased to find some similarities between Mrs Tim and myself – she too is a fan of Anthony Trollope.

If you haven’t discovered Mrs Tim yet I can highly recommend her acquaintance. These might be gentle books but they are not short on plot and they are some of the most comforting books I know. If you liked Diary of a Provincial Lady I know you will enjoy these too. As you can see, they work well on a picnic but they are equally good reading when you are curled up inside. I am determined to actively seek out more books by D E Stevenson – instead of just waiting for them to fall in my lap!

Scribbles in the Margins

Last week’s post about inscriptions in books reminded me that several years ago I bought Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books by Daniel Gray. It is one of those books which sounds utterly delightful but for some reason has languished unread on the shelf. Yesterday I finally picked it up and I can now confirm that it is wonderful.

This is only a small book, with 50 short essays on different bookish joys. The chapter headings alone give an idea of the gems inside – things like ‘Impromptu Bookmarks’, ‘Choosing and Anticipating Holiday Reading’ and ‘Feeling Bereft Having Finished a Book’. Every chapter resonated with me and I found that my pencil was much needed for a lot of underlining.

There are far too many good quotes to share them all but here are a few which made me feel seen.

Arrival in a house or flat kindles a desire to secure time alone with the bookshelves. The offer of a drink, preferably a slightly complicated one, is accepted, a distraction for your ferreting.

Bookmarks are the second socks of literature, frequently and inexplicably going missing in action.

What horror, incidentally, on those occasions when a fanned-flick forwards shows that what you thought were leafs of storyline are blanks or adverts for other titles.

I have many more I could share but, really, you should read the book. It is a bibliophile’s dream.

Incidentally, there is a chapter on author dedications. I knew from the moment I saw the dedication in this book that I would love it – ‘To the girl who won’t sleep until she’s had a story.’ I imagine this is referring to the author’s daughter but it feels like it was written for me.