Pot Pourri

The last few weeks I have been spent going around the country like Phileas Fogg, or Willy Fogg depending on which version you grew up with. It has been the most wonderful time, mainly because I have been using coaches and trains, which has availed me of much reading time.willy

I am desperate to get back to my own writing, so this is going to be succinct, but I have read some cracking books and I don’t want you missing out on them. So, pay attention and add some of these to your letter to Father Christmas…

Mount by Jilly Cooper – Oof. First Poldark, now Rupert. I found this hard to read for that exact reason.

Thin Air by Michelle Paver – wonderful atmospheric ghost story set in the Himalayas. Anyone who hasn’t read Dark Matter, her first ghost story, should grab it immediately.

Night Waking by Sarah Moss – Really enjoyed this unusual story of a woman battling to balance work and family life in the middle of nowhere.

Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley, my favourite historian. A children’s book set in the court of Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, but fascinating nonetheless. Worsley presents history to you like a slap-up meal: easy to digest and hugely more-ish.

The Travelling Bag and other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill – this little collection was better than others of hers but not a patch on Dolly nor The Woman in Black. A ghost in a story should haunt you long after you’ve closed the book. These ones disappeared into the pages.

The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe. OK, trying to be a modern day Ulysses I think. I saw there was a sequel and wasn’t interested in looking it up.

Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris. Crime story set in a posh boys’ school. Went on a bit – the narrator was a little too arch – but I liked the twist.

Blow Your House Down by Pat Barker. Gripping crime drama about a serial killer of prostitutes; but it’s not so much a crime drama, it’s a snapshot of life, and how searingly dreadful it can be.

I have just polished off The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry which is a luminous novel of tremendous beauty and power. Newly-widowed Cora moves from London to Essex where the village is in turmoil over a monster prowling the area. This is such a gorgeous book I wanted to read every word all over again. I didn’t, however, in deference to the 18 other people who have reserved it at the library; I then moved onto Rachel Tusk’s Transit, which was too highbrow for me so I didn’t read very much. I skipped onto An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve, which is a hugely readable, painful memoir. Ariel’s mother, a famous writer, was hugely narcissistic and abusive, and the effect on the little girl is devastating. Ariel’s words are never self-pitying, but intuitive and ultimately life-affirming. I devoured this in one (bath) sitting.

I am setting myself the challenge of writing an hour a day. No housework, no TV, no niggling little tasks – forcing myself to do it. So, off I hop to do just that. I’m not stopping reading though, so don’t feel too abandoned…

Season of mists …

I feel like I’ve been lazy, but in fact it’s the entire opposite. I’ve been doing stuff: so much stuff that I have scarcely had time to sleep. I have to factor that into my diary along with everything else. My two weeks in gorgeous Greece feel like a very, very long time ago. Back then I was able to read until words spilled out of my eyes like tears. I’ve been tickled into laughter on the beach, scared to death on a boat, annoyed, intrigued, heartbroken – occasionally bored – and above all entertained.fbf8wubgur6ilmt_rect2100

I have also started writing again. A chance outing to Southwold made something click in my brain. Or rather, not my brain, but the bit behind the brain where all the creating takes place. Like Frankenstein’s laboratory. It is exciting, like a reunion with an old friend whose company you have missed for years. More of that later. A lot of my time is taken up with work, and when not working I’m training for a sponsored walk. It’s ridiculous how long miles turn out to be when you have to walk more than 5 of them.

Autumn appears to have come on us overnight. You can smell it in the air: leaf mould and damp grass. The country getting ready to hibernate for winter. The brambles are bending low with blackberries.  The sun is thinner, more tentative.

I’ve picked the wrong time to plant a load of herbs, obviously.

I’ve had TONS of messages asking when my next blog post is coming. (Well, three.) So as promised – and I also promise I won’t leave it another 4 months for the next one, here is my holiday reading list:

John Connolly – A Time of Torment

The latest in the Charlie Parker series. Classic Connolly – funny in places, spine-chilling, deliciously dark and all too believable. He never lets you down.

Amy Hempel – The Dog in the Marriage

I read these stories after a recommendation in The Week. Some of them were dull but some of them really hit home. This line in particular sums up a feeling I’m still hoping to have:

“Not touching for so long was a drive to the beach with the windows rolled up
so the waves feel that much cooler.”

Isn’t it gorgeous? And – right?

The Shipping News – Annie Proux

Kevin Spacey was by far a more attractive Coyle than depicted in this novel, but it’s very readable and quite amusing in parts.

Nancy Goldstone – Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe

Girl power in the 14th century, looking at the Queen Consorts Eleanor, Beatrice, Sanchia and Marguerite in 13th century Europe. Unfortunately it wasn’t very well-written and I spotted several continuity bloopers. An interesting subject but I wouldn’t use this as a basis for any proper research.

Robert Nye – Mrs Shakespeare

A bit odd. Not convinced Shakespeare got his inspiration from what Nye claims. I would be interested to know if anyone feels similarly having read it.

Joan Didion – The Last Thing He Wanted

Story of a woman who tries to do her father’s dying wish, with catatrophic results. OK, but rather dull with none of the raw emotion of The Year of Magical Thinking.

Walter de la Mare – The Return

I had high hopes for Walter de la Mare’s prose but I much prefer his poetry. This story of a man who falls asleep on a gravestone and wakes up with the dead man’s face doesn’t really go anywhere.

Nick Griffiths – In The Footsteps of Harrison Dextrose and Searching For Mrs Dextrose

These are the books which made me laugh out loud. They’re a bit crazy and quirky but they were most amusing.

Mark Edwards – The Magpies, Because She Loves Me, What You Wish For

I gobbled up these books by the author of Follow Me Home. Mark is the male Lucie Whitehouse: intelligent, original thrillers.

Michelle Paver – Without Charity, A Place in the Hills

I loved Dark Matter by the author, which is a chilling ghost story. These were very different: both very enjoyable romances with depth. A Place in the Hills in particular was so good I started to research the poet Cassius which Paver writes about before realising she’d invented him. I don’t normally like romance stories but I did like these.

Oliver Potzsch – The Werewolf of Bamberg , The Poisoned Pilgrim

These aren’t great literature but they are enjoyable.  The story of the hangman, Jacob Kuisl, his assertive daughter Magdalena and their various escapades are always good fun.

Sarah Perry – After Me Comes the Flood

Weird, enticing and utterly heart-breaking story of a man who goes to a house and is mistaken for a guest who never turns up.

Helen Oyeyemi – Mr Fox

I am not intellectual. I did not enjoy this. I didn’t really enjoy White is for Witching either, which is a shame as I feel it says more about me than it does about the author.

Sarah Hall – The Wolf Border

The narrator of this book about a woman trying to set up a nature reserve in Scotland annoyed me a lot, but that’s because one of the men she slept with was married. Other than that, it was an enjoyable read.

Joanne Harris – Different Class

What I love about Joanne Harris is that she turns her pen (if one still uses pens!) to many different styles and voices and does so well. OK so Different Class sounds slightly self-aware but it’s immensely readable and there’s a real twist in it which makes you go “ooh!”

It says a lot that I can’t remember anything about these two beyond that they weren’t very good:

Darcy Coates – The Haunting of Blackwood House

Helen Moorhouse – The Dead Summer

So don’t bother looking at them. Kindle freebies – they never tend to be worth the paper they’re written on. (Yes, that is a deliberate pun.)

This is bitty. Not great. Allow me to get back into the swing of things. My mind has been on its own summer holiday. Let me quote Amy Hempel again:

“If it’s true your life flashes past your eyes before you die,
it is also the truth that your life rushes forth when you are ready to start to truly be alive.”

Bring on the sea.

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Hydra, after a storm