Literary Escapes

A conversation at work about Jane Austen adaptations (I still need to see the new Emma!) led me to re-watch Lost in Austen over the weekend.  I haven’t seen it since it first came out but was very happy to find that I still thought it was excellent.

I love that Amanda is so involved in the world of Pride and Prejudice that the people and manners in her real life seem brash and even vulgar by comparison.  I too have wished that I could escape to Jane Austen’s world.

It got me thinking though – if I really could change places with someone in a book, who would it be?  Of course, Elizabeth Bennet is a good choice and I can definitely see myself in the world of Pride and Prejudice.  Betsy Ray would be another – I would so love to spend time in Deep Valley, go to some skating parties and experience Sunday night lunch at the Ray’s house.  Perhaps the ultimate though is Anne Shirley.  I have wanted to go to Avonlea ever since I first read the book and, of course, Gilbert would be there too.

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The only flaw in the plan is that I would have to actually swap places with these characters when what I really want to do is spend time with them.  I want to explore Avonlea with Anne and I definitely would love to talk to all three of them – plus so many others.  Switching places isn’t the answer.  I need a new plan!

Where in literature would you go if you could?

Literary Picnics

In our continuing efforts to make our weekends different to the rest of the week, we have taken a picnic lunch out to the field almost every Sunday since lockdown started. Our first one made me feel like Judy from Daddy-Long-Legs. Like Judy and Jervis, we carried a table out to sit under the trees.

Our next attempt was right in the midst of my Swallows and Amazons re-read and so I was much more ambitious. I called up everything I could remember from the books and all of my old Girl Guide knowledge to build a campfire and cook our lunch over that. I was quite proud of my success – and also surprised about how relatively easy it was. We repeated the exercise on another Sunday and it is such a fun way to cook lunch, even if you do end up smelling strongly of smoke!

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I even did some rummaging and found the flag I made when I was first reading Swallows and Amazons as a child. You can’t really tell but it is a sparrowhawk flag made to look like Swallow’s and I was very proud of it. It made our picnic feel like a proper camp too.

Having eaten lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoons just sitting with tea and books. It is the most restful way to spend a day and I always ended up feeling incredibly calm and peaceful. I shall be sorry to lose these days as I return to work but am determined to find some way to fit them into my life anyway.

Holidaying at Home

At the moment I should be spending two weeks in the Hebrides.  I love spending time in Scotland and was very much looking forward to the trip but I have been determined to make the best of the time and try to make this fortnight feel different to the rest of this time at home.

I started by wanting to read books set in the right area.  I had intended to take Dorothy L Sayers’ Five Red Herrings with me as it is set near where I was due to be staying.  It is several years since I read it last but I have always remembered it as one of my favourites in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.  I had forgotten how complicated it is though – this time around I had a terrible time keeping all of the various alibis and timelines in my head!

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I intended to read more books set in Scotland but have ended up reading whatever happened to take my fancy.  Apart from Five Red Herrings I have been trying to restrict myself to my TBR shelf which is once again getting out of hand.  I was hoping that the lockdown would help me burn through it a bit but I’ve spent a lot of time seeking comfort by re-reading old favourites.  I also know that there are a whole load of brand new books I will buy as soon as I’m back in a bookshop.  I have a list.

For my ‘holiday’ fortnight I have been just browsing the shelf and taking whatever I happen to feel like reading that day.  The result has been quite eclectic – so far I’ve had Backstage with Peggy by Doris A Pocock, The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer, October Man by Ben Aaronovitch, The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury and I’ve just moved on to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  I am currently feeling the call of L M Montgomery though and I may soon have to abandon the TBR for her.

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So far this week has been even more laid back than last week and I have spent many happy hours outside with my book and a cup of tea.  We have been getting quite inventive with the places we choose to sit – much use has been made of the ponies’ fields – in order to make this fortnight feel a little different.  It is working though – is really does feel like a holiday.

Unexpected Adventures with a Book

This week was supposed to see my very first visit to the London Book Fair. I was incredibly excited and so, although it was absolutely the correct decision, I was very disappointed when it was cancelled. I decided that I would use the free time for my own literary adventures instead.

I started off with a visit to Westward Ho! – named after Charles Kingsley’s novel but also known for its connection to Kipling. I read Stalky & Co – which was based on his time at the United Services College near Westward Ho! – a couple of years ago and I loved it. The first stanza of If is set into the seafront and I had a lovely time walking along reading it.

It was a very blustery day and the wind was icy cold but that just made it more exciting. Plus, it meant we were thoroughly justified in warming up in the cafe!

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I also went to visit Malmsmead and the church of St Mary the Virgin at Oare – both places featured in Lorna Doone. The church is particularly significant as it is where Lorna and John Ridd were married – the shot is said to have been fired through the window on my right.

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The mist had really come down over Exmoor which gave gave a perfect eerie feeling to the day. However, for me no literary pilgrimage to the moor is complete without a picnic so – despite the non-existent view – we parked up and settled down for several hours of reading and eating. Inside the car of course – it was still far too windy and cold (not to mention the rain) to eat outside! It was a perfect afternoon.

Reading Delights

Last Friday I went on a little excursion to Bath.  Ostensibly this was to do a bit of Christmas shopping and look at pretty lights, with a quick stop off for a shoppers’ carol service in the Abbey.  In reality I was mostly going so that I could visit Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

Mr B’s has been one of my favourite bookshops for years.  It is always a joy to browse the shelves, hidden a little away from the hustle and bustle of the streets.  When they were crowdfunding to expand into next door I knew that I had to contribute something.  Apart from anything else, it meant that I got a tote bag, a bookmark (always things I want) and best of all my name actually on the ceiling in the shop!  Of course I had to make a trip to see that.

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The ceiling isn’t quite finished yet but I could still see my name under the film – and in a lovely font too.  This room is the Imaginarium where you can go to be a writer in residence for the day.  It looks like such a fun thing to do – I would be sorely tempted, although I’m not sure blog writing counts!

Of course, I had to also have a proper nosy around the shop and I spent a good deal of time there dithering over my purchases.  In the end I bought a copy of Maddy Alone by Pamela Brown which looks right up my street.  It had the added bonus of being in the new, wonderful children’s room which I loved.  It even has flaps to lift on the wall!

As usual, I had a great time and I can’t wair to visit again and see the finished ceiling.

We Joined the Navy

At first glance this does not seem to be a bookish post but it is about a beautiful building and we did buy books!

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While I was in Dartmouth I went on a tour of the Britannia Royal Naval College and it was a wonderful experience. The historic part of the building is stunning – both inside and out – and the history behind it is fascinating.

Our tour covered the historic building and lasted two hours but I could easily have spent at least the whole day there exploring. There were lots of tempting little staircases which I wanted to run up – obviously, it is a working Naval college and that just isn’t possible!

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The longest uninterrupted corridor in Europe!

I had such a good time and I would thoroughly recommend the tour to anyone in the Dartmouth area. Of course – as I promised – we couldn’t escape without books!

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Reading Retreat

I have never been on an actual reading retreat but the idea sounds absolutely wonderful. Going away to spend time reading is like a dream.

However, last week I went away for the week and, although I did have some things I wanted to see while I was there, I planned to read as much as possible. We had a stunning view from our window so I spent a lot of time there with a book and I think I read in most of the coffee shops in the town!

All of that industry was very productive too – I managed to read seven books in six days. They were all children’s books but that’s still quite impressive for me. Even better, for the first time in my life I finished every single book I took with me – so I was more than justified in taking so many (and indeed in buying more!).

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I had the best time and I didn’t really want to leave – now I’m back at work I have been reading the same book since Sunday and it’s just not the same!

Micro Libraries

Like most of you (I imagine!) I am constantly on the look out for book shops.  The lure of a book shop is almost irresistible and I love to find new ones to explore.

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Some of my favourite finds though have been the mini book exchanges and charity book shops which seem to have been popping up in more and more places recently.  Not only are they unexpected, they are often very beautiful as well.

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How lovely is this?!

I have seen several in old phone boxes too which I love.  The only trouble is that unless I know when I leave the house that I will find one I very rarely have a book with me which I can swap – only the one I am actually reading.  Still, that just means another trip to find some books and that’s not really a hardship!

Brilliant Book Festival

As I mentioned in my last post, last week was the Appledore Book Festival.  Not only was I at the book fair, I was also working at the festival itself which meant that I got to spend an entire week by the sea talking to people about books.  It was wonderful.

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Added to that, I also got to meet many authors which is always fun.  It was particularly lovely to meet Tim Waterstone – who was one of only a very small handful of authors to come across and introduce himself to me.  I was utterly charmed and of course I bought his book.

Another highlight was the event for Hazel Prior and her book Ellie and the Harp Maker.  It was held in a little café and as well as talking about harps and writing she read some passages from the book interspersed with harp music.  It was a delightful event – not least because she got the entire audience singing a song about how books are cool.

Books, books, books

Books are cool!

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I also ate a lot of cake.  This was peanut butter and jelly cake and it was amazing!

I had a wonderful week.  It was hard work – almost twice as many hours as normal – and I am now exhausted but Appledore is always one of my favourite weeks of the year and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Exploring Berwick

We broke our journey home from Scotland at Berwick-Upon-Tweed.  It is one of those places through which we have passed many times on the train and we thought it was about time we actually had a look around.

We stayed at the King’s Arms which for me was primarily notable for the fact that Charles Dickens had stayed there and had even given a reading in the ballroom.  I was delighted by the Dickens coffee lounge but sadly disapppointed to find that it was not open when we wanted it.  That didn’t stop me having a quick read though!

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We spent pretty much the entire day walking around the old town walls which were so interesting.   I love exploring historical sites and there is so much history there.  I was just a bit sad that we could not get to more of the castle.

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The museum at the barracks was also very good.  I particularly liked the rooms set aside for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum.  I found it incredibly moving and actually ended up feeling rather overwhelmed – which wasn’t helped by the fact that I am scared of mannequins.  It was a fantastic museum though and I would highly recommend a visit.

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I had a great time discovering the history of Berwick and I could easily have spent more time there.  We did however manage to squeeze in a short boat trip which rounded the day off nicely.