Autumn was bursting with gold and browns. The amber tree leaves, glowing, lit by pure sunlight is a snapshot in my mind.
I was wearing too many layers and had to peel off my waterproof jacket and under jacket. There was no sign of rain, the sun was out and shining so warmly you could almost believe it wasn’t autumn at all.
The English countryside is a gentle thing – rolling hills, rising and falling dotted with stone walls, clusters of trees, farms houses tucked away in corners, winding roads, old churches, all of it spread out like a quilted blanket pinned to a tumbling earth … I adore it.
This walk reminds me of Sutcliff’s writings – the way she summons a Britain that is both familiar and unfamiliar, an echo of a long ago time and also a glimpse of a hidden one you can still discover.
I spent some time requesting my best friend listen to the audiobook of The Lantern Bearers. ‘It’s just like this!’ I told her … in rather more words than that.
In November, you see, I finished The Lantern Bearers again and it was just as good – I ended it with a lump in my throat and a burning in my eyes. It’s my book; I’ve read it as a girl and I’ll continue reading it until I’m an old woman and sometimes – when I wander out into the countryside, on my own or with friends, I’ll catch sight of the Britain she describes.
My life has settled into a routine and let me say: I accept.
However, just because it’s routine doesn’t mean there isn’t time for going on adventures. (Unless, of course, we have another lockdown due to the Plague.)
REREAD DOPE BOOKS
I reread the Silver Branch and I adored it. Some things don’t hold up from your childhood and should never be revisited lest they be found to have feet of clay. (Just go with me on this analogy.) However, other things? Absolutely should be revisited on a regular basis.
The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff is 100% one of these. I loved it.
SUPPORT THE ARTS
I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong and giggled/cackled/chortled/guffawed the whole way through.
(I should probably assure you that this was a comedy.)
After the highs of this dizzying experience, I went back to watch Merlin: A Ballet.
My dear pals, comrades, and chums – I forgot that it wasn’t a comedy and when the two dancers (they were gods, apparently, and the parents of Merlin) glided on stage with a slight squeaking of dance shoes – I was *this* close to giggling.
And then I remembered. And attempted to embrace the drama and the art that was being performed in front of me.
There were some really quite wonderful dances – when Morgan Le Feye enchants Uther, and a Lady Of The Lake sequence – however, I was mildly confused, mistook Arthur for Uther and Uther’s dad for Uther and it was only made clear when I googled it.
I’m not certain ballet is for me and I might not quite be able to follow the story (there was the Tide Kingdom and the Solar Kingdom and the baby could be Arthur. Possibly.) but I’m glad I gave it a go. David Suchet: Poirot And More was my cup of tea. In fact, it was exactly my cup of tea and it was a high I may never, ever come down from.
I’ve been watching him portray Poirot practically my entire life and let me tell you, seeing him in person, talking about how he played Poirot and his career and ‘oh, let’s just do some epic speeches and make you feel things from Shakespeare’ MOVED me.
100% would recommend.
GO TO MUSEUMS AND/OR THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE CENTRE
I kept on telling everyone ‘oh yes, I’m going to the International Space Centre’.
DISCLAIMER: I was not going to the International Space Centre.
I was going to the National Space Centre. In England. We don’t have a huge space thingy (a technical term that I definitely learnt there) here, however, we’ve had some astronauts.
(Wait. It’s ‘space program’. I meant ‘we don’t have a huge space program.’ There we go. We got there in the end.)
It was fun. Jim Kirk wasn’t there which was a terribly tragic disappointment that I’ve yet to recover from.
There was a milkshake in the flavour of ‘blue goo’. This was an accurate description of its taste. It also turned my tongue blue. This is the future of humanity.
HAUNT A GRAVEYARD
It makes you think of your mortality. We have only so much time on this earth; they remind you of those who are gone and to treasure those who are here.
Graveyards are quiet, sombre places – and yet, they are tranquil. You can look at the names engraved on headstones and wonder who these people were, what kind of lives they lived, what their stories were.
STAR GAZE (AT NIGHT)
Notice I clarified it with ‘at night’. You’re welcome. I’m very detail orientated. Look – take a flask of tea with you. Go where there’s minimal light pollution – or just go and lie down on a lawn, any lawn. Preferably, yours. Stare at the stars. Think about life. All those other folks who have watched the same stars. That sort of thing. Also – maybe take a blanket too.
You don’t have to think deep thoughts – you can just look up and be lost in the wonder of it all. And when it gets cold, go back inside, wrap up in a blanket, and enjoy a hot drink. You’ve earned it.
My current read is The Gospel of the Eels which differs greatly from The Gospel of Loki which I’ve recently loaned to my uncle. It’s a cosy book and did you know that Aristotle and Freud were both obsessed with eels? These are the facts humanity needs to know. You’re welcome.
But I’ve read other books too.
STAR TREK: AGENTS OF INFLUENCE // dayton ward
Take Star Trek: The Original Series and write a novel about one of their off screen adventures. You’d think that this would be an instant hit in Le Monde de Ness. It was, and then it wasn’t.
I think that the show works best as a TV show – with the charm and charisma and sheer madness of the characters/sets/dialogue. The book bounced around between – I think – three or four points of view which was a little disorientating for me.
It was great to hang out with old friends but I think I’d much prefer the show itself. I haven’t learned my lesson because I’m reading another Star Trek novel right now. It’s got Evil!Spock (?) and Kirk is dead and it happens in the first chapter?!
Also, side note: William Shatner is going into space????
Interesting. I wonder if it will be anything like he imagined when acting as Kirk.
THE PLANETS // andrew cohen & professor brian cox
I loved this book. It filled me with wonder and, indeed, awe. To think that Saturn has lightning, and Jupiter, storms. I learned so much. (And, some would say, retained so little. But some shouldn’t say that. Boo them.)
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON // daniel keyes
Basically, if you want to see me cry – ask me: have you read Flowers For Algernon? and I will dissolve into a puddle and weep.
I cried. Repeatedly. At the end of the book. Retelling it to my Mum. Attempting to talk about it with someone else.
I haven’t read the short story yet. Emotional devastation isn’t something I’d typically seek out on a Monday. (It seems a more Thursday kind of thing.)
ANCILLARY JUSTICE // ann leckie
Two words: corpse soldier.
No! More words: ex-ship corpse soldier.
I liked it. There. I said it. I liked the side character who tags along. I could picture everything quite clearly.
Will I read the sequel? Maybe but probably not too. (There’s a clear answer for you!) I liked being in the world but the stakes are going to be even higher probably in the next book and my poor nerves won’t take it.
Wait. Waaaait. I should rephrase that: I liked reading about the world but I’d rather not be in it. ‘Zero privacy and Big Brother Is Watching You and oh! I know a new career plan you could be trapped in your own body as a star ship uses it to do ship stuff‘ aren’t on my ‘To Visit’ list. (I don’t have a ‘To Visit’ list just yet but if I had this wouldn’t be in the top fifty-seven destinations. Fifty-eighth at a push but no more.)
(Once again I will state in the annals of this blog: I should totally be a professional book reviewer. Ah-hem. I’m really very good at this gig.)
I know, I know – this may seem quite trivial – but to versions of my past bookworm self? It is NOT. As I go through life, I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to let go of things, to refrain from making judgements, it’s okay to be wrong and … it’s totally okay to break a book’s spine.
BREAK THE SPINE
New paperback books are difficult to read – you have to wrestle to make sure that they stay open. And then, if you’re called away, you put them face-down for one moment and suddenly they’ve sprung up and closed. If I’m confronted with this problem and if I own the book? I will happily, merrily, and easily break the spine. I won’t flutter an eyelash. I’ll even take satisfaction from it.
(Am I … a monster?)
DOG-EAR THE PAGES
Sometimes, keeping track of a bookmark is tricky. I always lose the nice ones; by putting them in books it’s taking me years to read or putting them in a place to ‘keep them safe’ (AKA so safe I will never find them again.)
I’ve used tissues, receipts, pens, hair ties – everything and anything. Probably a spare sanitary towel too, if I got very desperate. However, lately I’ve been embracing simply turning the corner over of the pages.
And you know what? It works. It’s like being environmentally-friendly-self-sufficient-y. The page is there. You don’t need anything else. Turn the corner. Boom. Page marked. You know where you are. No scramble for the closest item that will magically morph into a bookmark.
UNDERLINE / HIGHLIGHT
I’m rereading the Amelia Peabody mysteries again and this time – if there’s something funny or an iconic character is introduced or if it’s just a good quote? You can bet that I’m underlining it. It’s like leaving a note to the future me. It’s a way of making the books my own, of engaging with the story. But I’d like to again note: only do this if you own the book.
ONLY DO THIS IF YOU OWN THE BOOK
I love second hand bookshops with books that look old and well-read. Because I don’t just see the book and the pages and the cover – I’m seeing the ghosts of past readers. It’s the most introverted way of connection I can think of. So break the spines, dog ear the pages, and underline as much as you like! Engage with the story! (You’ll find ‘hahaha’ scrawled in some of my books. I hope, in the future, someone reads that in a monotone: ha. ha. ha.)
(This would amuse me greatly.)
Ultimately, how you treat your books is down to why you own them – if you are a collector or want everything in pristine condition – keep them perfect. Here – I give you permission. Protect them. It’s okay. But if you are reading them for the story, don’t stress about keeping your books perfect. You don’t need to. Life is too short. The creases, the notes, the broken spine – it all shows that a book is well-read and also?
Wow. I feel like this is a super impactful moment. We are bonding. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Also, I don’t think I used enough gifs.
We didn’t go on holiday in 2020 and we made up for it this year. I’d looked forward to this break with all the anticipation of a thirst-ridden explorer stumbling upon an oasis in a parched desert. (Not that I’ve experienced that. But if I had have done, I’m sure the metaphor would hold.)
I packed light for this trip. I brought just the one bag and that had clothes, laptop, flip-flops, and books in it. (This is saying a lot – in the past, when I’d stay at a friend’s overnight I’d bring multiple bags and a mound of blankets too. Character growth, you say? Yes. Yes, indeed.)
BOOKS AN’ STUFF
I took Steinbeck’s East of Eden – but stalled with the reading. It was going all very well but then a dastardly character was introduced and I wasn’t sure I could continue as the realm of fiction prohibits reaching into a story and punching someone soundly on the nose.
Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scrurr was finally finished, proving that I can be a reasonably literate adult and still find three hundred ways to spell his name incorrectly. At least I’m not calling him Ropespierre anymore.
Next up on the French Revolution front is none other than a reread of The Scarlet Pimpernel. (Be still my beating heart!)
Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett felt like a guilty pleasure – it was so very much my humour that I was astonished that it was there, in print! (An odd way of putting it, I know – but it’s the only one that makes sense.)
I also did another reread of The Goblin Emperor and felt quite ready to reread it all over again once I’d finished it. That’s the mark of a particular kind of favourite – isn’t it? The one that you can read over and over again; that still have, as a bookmark, the note from three years ago when your mum sent it over the ocean to you so that you could be in a foreign country but in a familiar book.
(WHAT a sentence. Someone inform the Pulitzer Prize Board. Ding ding ding! We have a winner on our hands!)
I also brought some Keats with me for culture. I opened my Keats. I looked at my Keats. I closed my Keats. I humbly slid it back on its shelf. Total perusal time was probably three minutes. Or less. Much less. That is all that I’m going to say on that subject.
WAXIN’ LYRICAL ‘BOUT NATURE
I woke up early one morning and stood on the shore – the sun had slid up the horizon, bright and glowing, and the water was still as mirror glass with swathes of golden mist curling low over patches of it.
There was a bluebell wood tucked away behind it all, a carpet of ethereal blue on the ground. The air rang with bird song and was rich with flower-scent.
This sort of thing makes you forget – just for a moment – how turbulent things are in this world of ours. It reminds you that life is worth living. It makes it feel rich and impossibly, endlessly, interesting.
MORE WORDS ABOUT OTHER WORDS
On the writing front, A Suffragist Abroad is inching ever closer to being published (more on that very soon) Our Intrepid Heroine has her new front cover finalised, and Project If is in the process of being pulled apart and put back together again. I’m excited – hoping that soon, soon, they’ll be completely complete and ready to share with you.