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!

Kindred Spirits

This year I am starting my annual Christmas re-read of Little Women a bit early as I am doing so in the company of some lovely people on Instagram – the Kindred Spirit Network.

Social media is a bit of a tricky topic for me – if I spend too long scrolling – and on a bad day too long can be five minutes – I end up feeling very down and it really isn’t good for me.  On the other hand, I need to use it if I want to promote my blog.  It is difficult for me to find the right balance sometimes.

However, a huge positive side of social media – and Instagram in particular – is the connection I can so easily make with like minded people.  I love having a book club with real people I can talk to in person but none of them really enjoy the same books as me.  Yes, it makes me read a wider range of books and that is great – but sometimes I just want to read a cosy, comforting book which I love.  It is even better if I can share that book with other people who love it just as much as I do.

I am therefore very much looking forward to a couple of months spent curled up with Little Women (and Good Wives – they are usually published separately in the UK).  I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

Double Booking

I was really disappointed last week when my love of horses (see Gadding About with Galahad) meant I was taking part in a show jumping competition when I had been booked to see an outdoor production of Lorna Doone.

Luckily my Mother offered to do a guest blog for me.

We were very sad that Eleanor couldn’t go with us but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

This was an opportunity to see a proper story retold in its native habitat. Lorna Doone was written by R D Blackmore and is set on Exmoor. The play was performed in the Valley of the Rocks, a site on Exmoor with the added attraction of the Bristol Channel as a backdrop.

The story has been well adapted by Helena Stafford Northcote for Pleasure Dome Theatre and performed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its publication. Narrative sections were provided by actors striding down aisles and across the ‘stage’ speaking one line each which added urgency to the story. The rough terrain provided natural opportunities for various cameo scenes including throwing a baby into te sea, a discreet killing and the final denouement of the play as Carver Doone fell over the cliff.

It was wonderful to see this Exmoor story brought to life in such rugged scenery and watching the Doones advancing waist deep in bracken sent shivers down the spine. As dusk fell, the lights of Wales appeared over the sea adding a final magic to the story. The setting was wild and rugged but, dare I say it, that very naturalness created a rival to the manicured and concrete Minack. A far better place to bring the story of Lorna and John to life.

Sorry Eleanor. You missed a wonderful evening.

I was very sorry to miss what sounded like an excellent production. I have been wanting to see a play in the Valley o the Rocks for several years and was very much looking forward to it. I will have to make sure that I get there next year.

Literary Edinburgh

I have recently been spending some time in Scotland, a place which I love.  I stopped off on the way up to spend the day in Edinburgh and I had a great time soaking up the culture.

My first stop had to be the Scott Memorial.  It really stands out on the skyline and as I was reading Waverley at the time I couldn’t not pay it a visit.  There is a little café in the park there which I found was the perfect spot for breakfast.

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I had a lovely time wandering through the streets before moving on to the National Library of Scotland.  Unfortunately the main exhibition was closed due to technical problems with the lighting but I did get to see a small display of letters and manuscripts relating to the publication of Byron’s Don Juan.  It was wonderful to see and I was especially fascinated by the proof copies annotated with Byron’s corrections.

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I loved this staircase at the National Library of Scotland!

By then it was lunchtime.  I was meeting an old university friend and we had a lovely catch up before going on to the Writers’ Museum.  I had been so looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I had actually been before but not for several years and even then it was just a flying visit.  This time I could really take everything in, although we still had to be kicked out at closing time!

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If I lived here I would have to have that little tower room!

The museum mostly focuses on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Obviously, as I was reading Waverley, I was excited about seeing the Scott displays.  I was especially moved by his rocking horse – with uneven steps for his feet as he had polio as a child.

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I was also fascinated by the Stevenson displays.  He lived such an interesting life all over the world, although sadly that was mainly due to his ongoing ill health.  Last year I read an excellent book by Joseph Farrell about Stevenson’s time in Samoa so I loved seeing some of his belongings too.

The Burns exhibition was also great, although I am perhaps less familiar with his work.  I’m afraid that I also came away with the impression that he was the least likeable of the three men!

Having left the museum I had half an hour to spare before my train left, which gave me just enough time for a very fleeting visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I had seen the title of their current exhibition – The Annotated Reader – as I passed in the morning and naturally I was intrigued.  It hadn’t been open then but was now so I sacrificed my chance of a cup of tea and dived in.

The creators of the exhibition – Ryan Gander and Jonathan P Watts – had asked a whole range of people to annotate a page from the book they would choose to have with them if they had missed the last train home.  Those pages were hung from the walls around the gallery and visitors were positively encouraged to take them home.  I found the whole idea fascinating, picked up several pages for myself and would have loved to be able to spend more time there.

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Catching my train north I learnt both that Edinburgh Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the there is such a thing as a UNESCO city of literature.  I had no idea that was a thing but I thoroughly approve and would love to find some more!

I had the most fantastic day – I couldn’t live in a city but I do enjoy my occassional trips.  I love discovering literary and other cultural places to visit and I always come away feeling inspired to write and to read everything.

Weekend Reading

My sister recently bought herself a hammock seat and having sat in it decided it was exactly what I needed. She is very kind so now I have one too!

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We had great fun getting it up – all the branches seem to go straight up in the air!

It is the most wonderful place to sit and read and I have spent a couple of entire days curled up in it with a book and a cup of tea. I’ve even eaten my lunch and had a nap in it (I would highly recommend it for naps)!

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Even the ponies like it!

I have also needed some blankets – it might be sunny at the moment but it is not really all that warm yet and sitting still you do get a bit chilly. It is totally worth it though.

It is amazing how much reading you can get through when you have no distractions. Over one weekend I spent two afternoons hanging and reading and I got through two children’s books (Malamander by Thomas Taylor and We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo) and a good sized chunk of Martin Chuzzlewit. It was bliss.

Apple Blossom Time

The apple blossom is out in full force here and it is this time of year more than any other which makes me want to revisit the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

I read these for the first time only two years ago as part of a readalong on Instagram.  I had never even heard of the books before but was told that they were perfect for fans of L M Montgomery and I am definitely one of those!  The readalong only covered the later books in the series – those set in high school or after – although I did go back and read the earlier books afterwards.

I adored the books so much. For me they are the perfect blend of sweetness and sorrow and reading them sucks me into Betsy-Tacy’s world.  There are ten books in the series which follows Betsy and Tacy from the age of five until they are married.  Three more books are set in the same town and feature a great many of the same characters including Besty.  I gobbled them up in no time (I wish there were more!) and they are definitely right up there with Anne of Green Gables for me.

These books are perfect for anyone who loves L M Montgomery or the Little House on the Prairie series and I would thoroughly recommend hunting them out.  Now I just need to find something similar – recommendations are always welcome!

The Delights of Readalongs

Over the past couple of years I have taken part in several readalongs. I never really knew they were a thing until I discovered Bookstagram but there seem to be so many of them to choose from! For anyone who doesn’t know – a readalong is when a group of people read the same book with discussions every so often about set chapters.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Mary Barton are two of my very favourite books so when I discovered that Shelbi over at The Nobby Life was running a series of Elizabeth Gaskell readalongs I jumped at the chance to join in. Shelbi hosted some excellent discussions and of course I loved the books.

Sadly, I still haven’t finished the last book we discussed. The Sylvia’s Lovers readalong came at a time when I had a lot going on and was also in the middle of quite a reading slump. Sylvia was doing nothing to pull me out of it and the stress of knowing I had to read a certain number of chapters a week was not helpful so I ended up stopping altogether. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the discussions but that’s the point – readalongs are for fun! Hopefully I’ll pick the book up again soon.

Currently I am taking part in a bookstagram readalong of Martin Chuzzlewit. I am rather behind – I sing in a church choir and had five services plus extra rehearsals over Holy Week so I was somewhat busy – but am hoping to catch up again this week. The main thing is that I am enjoying the book and for me that’s the important part. Of course, the discussions make it extra interesting and I really have been learning a lot from them. I would certainly recommend joining in to anyone who is interested!

Reading and Dancing

This past weekend I went away for a few days folk dancing at Halsway Manor.   I recently treated myself to a copy of the first Abbey School book by Elsie J Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club and although I have only read a couple of books in the series before but I knew the girls were very keen on folk dancing so it seemed the perfect choice to take away with me.

The house is absolutely beautiful. I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the library and it did not disappoint.

In fact, it was even better than I had hoped as I found half a shelf of Abbey School books in there which made me very happy indeed.

The weekend was very full but I still found plenty of time for reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had the most wonderful windowsill in my bedroom.

It was perfect for sitting and reading and I could have quite happily spent the whole weekend there!

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Book Review – Jane Austen at Home

Last year I went to see Lucy Worsley’s talk about her book Jane Austen at Home. Obviously I am a Jane Austen fan but I also love watching Lucy’s television programmes so I was very much looking forward to it.

I wasn’t disappointed either – Lucy gave a fantastic talk and if you ever get a chance to see her I would thoroughly recommend going. Of course, I had to buy the book and get it signed!

Publisher’s Blurb

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

It took me a while to get around to reading it but it was always hovering at the back of my mind and when I booked to go to the Jane Austen Society study day I knew it would be the perfect companion for me. I was so excited to finally be reading it.

I sometimes struggle to get into non-fiction but I was immediately gripped by this one and I resented having to put it down to do something else. It was just as well as I had a four hour train journey so I needed something that kept me wanting to read!

This was a really interesting way to look at the life of Jane Austen and I did learn some things I hadn’t previously known. I loved Lucy Worsley’s style of writing and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

Book Details

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

ISBN: 9781473632202

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

RRP: £9.99

Fangirling in Bloomsbury

The day after my Jane Austen Society annual study day last week I was due to meet a friend for brunch. Naturally that meant I had to stay in town which I was more than happy to do! I was very impressed to find that my hotel had Foyles marked as a place of interest on its map.

I had never been to Foyles before so I had planned to visit on the Saturday evening and it was definitely worth the trip – I spent well over two hours browsing the shelves and had to exercise great restraint not to come away with half the books. I especially loved the children’s classics section which had six whole shelves of Enid Blyton and even some books from the Girls Gone By Press. Foyles is much bigger than any bookshop near me and it was wonderful to be able to properly browse and find new (to me) titles. In the end, however, I managed to restrict myself to just two books and a tote bag.

I was meeting my friend at King’s Cross so the next day I wandered through Bloomsbury, picking out as many literary sights as I could. I made a slight detour to find Mecklenburg Square and the house where Dorothy L Sayers once lived. Harriet Vane is mentioned as living in the square too so it was doubly interesting to me.

I had toyed with the idea of having my picture taken with the trolley at Platform 9 3/4 but having seen the length of the queue I decided I could manage without!

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After brunch I visited the Charles Dickens museum which I loved – my favourite room was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Dickens’ study.

I was very impressed with the setup of the house – they used the house next door for things like the gift shop and had a door knocked through so that the house itself was more or less as it had been in Dickens’ time. I thought it was an excellent use of the space!

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All in all, it was quite a literary pilgrimage of a weekend and I had the most wonderful time. I must do things like this more often!