Friday 26 February 2010

Cornish Cornucopia #4 Some fiction

The first proper novel I read as part of my Cornish inspired reading was The main cages by Philip Marsden. I had not heard of Philip Marsden before, but according to the blurb on the fly leaf he is an eminent writer, predominantly focussing on travel writing, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. This is his first novel.

Set in the 1930s a small Cornish village near Penzance called Polymayne, the Main cages is a book framed by a group of perilous rocks outside Polmayne. It starts with a tragic shipwreck on these rocks and their presence hangs over the entire tale. In between Marsden paints a picture of the community and its characters; the fishermen, the hoteliers, the painters, the visitors on holiday. We follow the main character Jack Sweeney, a newcomer to the town as he falls in love with an artist named Anna. But given the opening of the book and the oppresive presence of the rocks, the whole tale is overhung with a sense of foreboding.

"Even in this deadest of dawn seas, the Main Cages picked out a swell where there appeared to be none. It came in from the east, each wave mounting as it approached the first of the rocks, the Curate. The crest steepend and began to curl, and just before it broke, the water was sucked away from around the rock and it was exposed, a brief black island hung with strands of draining white"

I loved his particular style of writing which felt almost like a medieval chronicle in places. Individuals were sparsely introduced and events related in a bare fashion before being fleshed out with more detail. It was also interesting to read a tale of the 1930s; often books set in this time have the threat of war hanging over them, but this didn't, and this may actually reflect the experiences of the ordinary people of the time.

I'm not sure whether I would seek out more works by Marsden because I liked this best for being a book about Cornwall but it was certainly a good way to kick things off.


Another suggestion from Fleur Fisher, The quickening ground was an immensley enjoyable Cornish read, telling the story of two women, 100 years apart who inhabit the same farmhouse near Newlyn. Claira in 1886 has just moved in after getting married to her husband, and Claire in 1986 has moved in after her family decide to leave their city existence for a less stressful life near the sea. The pair's lives intertwine after Claire discovers a nineteenth century painting from the local Newlyn school. It's a cleverly written story that kept me guessing up until the end.

But the reason I read this book was for its connection with Cornwall, and I wasn't disappointed in that either. The story itself might not be a new concept, but the descriptions of Cornwall are beautiful.

Summer in February seemed like an appropriate read for this time of year, but turned out to be even more timely than I had anticipated given my reading of Laura Knight's autobiography earlier on in my Reading Cornwall adventure. This is a beautifully told and meticulously researched book about the community of painters in Newlyn and Lamorna before the First World War. Characters such as Laura Knight and Alfred Munnings feature. Ultimately, it is a love story following what happens when two of the men fall in love with the same woman, but it is so very much more than that, detailing the lives of the characters, and describing the wonderful landscapes. I read on the internet that there are plans to make this into a film and think that this would be fantastic!

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Three review copies

I recieved three review copies in the mail last week, and having excitedly read my way through them, I thought I would mention them on my blog while they were still fresh in my mind.

The whole wide beauty (Emily Woof)
I recieved this book through the early reviewers programme which sends out proof copies to members to review on the website. What a privilege it was to have the opportunity to read this book ahead of publication. Although a debut novel, The whole wide beauty by Woof is an incredibly accomplished novel dealing with the big issues of life - the need to love and be loved, the problem of conflicting roles and interests and the need to find fulfilment. It's the story of a woman named Katherine Freeman, an ex-ballet dancer who now lives with her overworked husband, young son and works part-time as a music teacher. Her life suddenly changes when she meets a poet at an arts event organised by her father, and they embark on an affair, trying to fill the gaps of love and intellectual fulfilment in their lives. Emily Woof is better known as an actor with an long list of film and theatre credits to her name; however this is an impressive novel and I hope that she will be writing another.

Pride and promiscuity
There seems to be a huge number of Jane Austen spin offs of late, and this book, sent to me by Canongate, is among them. To be honest, I wasn't grabbed by it. The basic premise of the book is that a Jane Austen scholar finds some lost Austen manuscripts containing sex scenes, which got left out of her finished publications and shed a whole new light on the author. It is obviously a parody, but I found the sex scenes badly written (see this interesting blog post by Jackie about sex in literature), and for me it didn't add anything to a Jane Austen experience.

Both ways is the way I want it (Meloy)
Having loved both of Meloy's novels, Liars and Saints, and a Family Daughter, I was excited when Canongate sent me her latest. Unfortunately it turned out not to be a novel, rather a collection of short stories, but having got into some short stories recently I was rather more open minded than I might otherwise have been. And I'm glad I did and I found it to be a great collection which makes me hope even more that Meloy writes another novel!

The first story was probably my favourite. It concerns Chet, who by accident ends up attending an adult education course in law. The tutor signed up to teach the class before getting a full-time job nine and a half hours drive away, but didn't want to let people down, so has driven miles to get there. Chet really wants to get to know her, and they bond in the cafe after the class. Even though he isn't signed up to the class, he returns the next session to see her and they go to the cafe again, even though she is exhausted. This happens one more time, and then he kisses her. The next class, she doesn't turn up; a man is in her place, she has found the travelling too exhausting. Chet drives 9.5 hours to try to find her, despite not knowing where she lives. He is scared that his kiss has scared her off. They meet, but she tells him she had already asked for a replacement but that she had not got around the mentioning it. Chet has little option but to drive home again; stories do not always have the happy ending.

I also recieved a copy of the latest Agatha Raisin book, There goes the bride, which I won on Simon S's blog. I've not read any of the Agatha Raisin books so it's nice to have the opportunity, though I'll be lending it to my Mum first as she's much more into crime than me!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Library loot

Going to the library is such an addiction, but it's free and never fails to cheer me up (like daffodils do!). A colleague confessed to me the other day that he finds himself visiting the Central Library several times a week, and then often pops into his branch library on the weekend. I admitted that I am the same. These books are loot from last week - a couple of trips to the Central Library and one trip to the branch library.

A load of old tripe is a light novel by Gervase Phinn, more famous for his books about school inspecting in Yorkshire.
Summer at Gaglow is by Esther Freud, an author who I have enjoyed previously, and starts during WW1.
Caught in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho will form part of my Reading Cornwall, and is the last Rose Trevelyan detective story set in the county - I've already enjoyed a couple of the others in the series.
My secret diary by Jacqueline Wilson is the author's autobiography written in a similar style to her children's books. I was a bit too old for Jacqueline Wilson as she came to prominence when I hit my teens, but she was always a guilty pleasure when I needed something unchallenging.
In my own time is Nina Bawden's autobiography - I've enjoyed a lot of her adult books as part of my Virago Venture, so it will be interesting to learn more about the person behind these books as I suspect that they have many autobiographical moments.
The long song by Andrea Levy came from the new books shelf and I feel lucky to have got this so soon. Although not a fan of Small Island, I've loved her other novels and will be interested to see what I make of this.

Do any of these appeal to you?

Monday 22 February 2010

Seeing things (Oliver Postgate)

I watched a hugely fascinating documentary on BBC4 the other night (which was in fact a repeat of a Christmas programme that I had missed) about the filmmaker Oliver Postgate, responsible for bringing us Bagpuss, The Clangers, Ivor the engine, and essentially setting out the ground for the children's television that is shown today like the Teletubbies, The Fimbles and In the night garden. I remembered seeing his memoir, and I was lucky enough to be able to obtain a copy from Canongate, who published it.

Postgate's memoir begins with a wonderful description of his upbringing in the interwar years, followed by a spell at art school, but it was during the Second World War that the book really started to get interesting for me. I wrote a little while ago about how I had written a dissertation on conscientious objectors during the First World War, and in fact one of the individuals that I focussed my research upon was his father Raymond. Oliver Postgate made a conscientious objecting during the Second World War. Although Raymond did not object to the Second World War in the way that he had to the First World War, he was still reasonably supportive of Oliver's objection, in a way that his own father had not been. I was fascinated by Postgate's description of trying to register his objection; he failed to report for duty, but nonetheless turned up to the barracks to report himself failing to report for duty. The authorities didn't know quite what to do with him! In the event after a spell in prison, he worked on the land for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Postgate followed a number of pursuits; he attempted to develop a career in theatre. But he also tried his hand in particular at invention. He made his mother a "washing machine" which terrified her, as the motor moved the box around the shed in which it was kept and she was scared that it was going to come to get her! He also made some props for theatre and television, such as an amazing collapsable souffle, which could be deflated by the actress using her thumb when she took it out of the oven. It is easy to see the person who was later to create the wonderfully inventive animations.

Postgate's television work and animations in collaboration with Peter Firmin was only dealt with towards the end of the book. Finding himself disappointed with current output, he came up with a number of ideas, but it was not until Noggin the Nog that they achieved success. Bagpuss, The Pogles, Ivor the engine, and of course The clangers all followed in due course. I loved reading about their creation from the creator himself! Being a huge Clangers fan I was especially interested in that section; I knew about the legendary episode which the BBC very nearly didn't show because they objected to Major Clanger swearing (for those of you who never saw them, the Clangers communicated by making whistling noises, but in order to make it authentic, scripts were written and then "whistled" on 6 special Clangers whistles by Postgate and Firmin), and I knew that it was possible to hear sense in the whistling noises, but I didn't know that, although the scripts were English, German and French viewers found the noises equally intelligible and believed the Clangers to be speaking their languages!

This book was actually originally written in 2000, but this new edition by Canongate was issued in 2009 after his death in 2008 and features a postscript by one of his sons. The book has wonderful illustrations at the start of each chapter by Peter Firmin, Postgate's collaborator on many series, and this hardback edition has a lovely embossed cover. I do really recommend this book as a hugely interesting autobiography and an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoyed/enjoys The Clangers, Bagpuss, or any of the other children's programmes.

(And as a post-script, here is my very own Clanger, which one of my college friends knitted for me several years ago after I spent a year wearing Clangers t-shirts and with a Clangers decorated bedroom!)

Friday 19 February 2010

Cornish cornucopia #3 Crime

Although I usually tend to avoid crime books, I have made a bit of an exception over the last couple of weeks as there are a number set in Cornwall, and I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed this venture into pastures anew. I have not discovered great literature, but I have encountered gripping page-turners.

I'm not a complete stranger to Cornish crime; I was a devotee of the television series Wycliffe, broadcast in the 1990s, and often repeated on ITV2, for the scenery and wonderful opening music. I subsequently read a lot of the books which they were based on, although if I'm honest I never really enjoyed the books as much as the series.

However, a number of crime books and series were recommended to me when I embarked on this challenge, so I decided to dive in and sample some.

The first book I tried was Careless in red by Elizabeth George, recommended to me by EllenB. This got my attention because rarely for Cornish fiction it is set on the North coast as opposed to on the South coast, and this is the area with which I am most familiar and can picture most vividly (I think this is important in reading fiction by place...). Although reviews on Amazon are somewhat damning, suggesting that it does not live up to George's usual standard of crime novel, I did not have any preconceptions about it. The book opens with Inspector Lynley undertaking a walk along the coast path as part of the process of grieving for his wife; he has gone incognito, literally only in the clothes he is wearing, trying to find some peace. On his 43rd day of walking, he sees a climber fall to his death, and suddenly becomes embroiled in a murder enquiry. Although this story is the main driving force behind the book, there is a complicated cast of characters, the inhabitants of the nearby village, and George deals with family relationships making a much more complex story than I anticipated. I'm not sure that I would seek out more Inspector Lynley novels to read, but I did enjoy this one with its Cornish setting.

Various people suggested Janie Bolitho's Rose Treveylan mysteries. These are a series of detective novels set in Penzance. It would have been good to start at the beginning of the series, but the library only had Plotted in Cornwall on the shelves so I started 6 books in. I will definitely be requesting the others as I really loved it. It wasn't so much of a page-turning mystery as the Elizabeth George, but I liked it more for being a novel about a woman who is a painter and photographer and for being a book about the characters as much as the events. There was also a slightly smaller cast than in Careless in red which made it easier to follow. In some ways I found it reminiscent of the Veronica Stallwood books, set in Oxford, which are the only other crime novels that I have enjoyed previously. So, if you fancy a fairly easy read set in Cornwall with some elements of mystery and detection, then do seek this out.

Wednesday 17 February 2010


A spectacular FAIL has occurred with the Frugal February and book-buying ban that I announced over a fortnight ago. I'll bore you with my excuses - the dismalness of the February weather, the continuation of my exclusion diet, and some ill health creating a general need for cheering up which was most easily assuaged by ebay, and the excitement of the Cornish cornucopia and discovering the general unavailability of Cornish books in Oxfordshire made it impossible to resist Amazon's market place. On the plus side, I have managed to avoid bookshops, and where I haven't, I've at least managed to avoid buying anything.

However, as you can see from this picture the TBR shelves are threatening to become a whole bookcase of shame again, so I'm hoping that I can actually try to resist purchasing books to cheer myself up, and at the same time make inroads into these piles.

Lent starts today, so it's time to make a new start and see if I can keep going until Easter Saturday, which also happens to be the lesser known feast day of April 3rd this year (aka my birthday).

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Helen Humphreys

A while ago I read The lost garden by Helen Humphreys and loved it. I wanted to read more by the author, particularly her book Coventry, which is a WW2 drama, but The lost garden was, and still is, the only book by Helen Humphreys in my county libraries. The other day I suddenly remembered that one of my friends (now a colleague) had mentioned that she had another book by Humphreys and I finally got around to asking to borrow it.

Afterimage is a wonderful read which I just couldn't put down until I'd finished it, returning it to my friend 23 hours after she'd lent it to me. Set in the Victorian period, it's the story of the new world that Irish maid Annie Phelan encounters when she takes up employment at the home of Isabelle and Eldon Dashell. It's a big contrast to the strict house where Annie worked previously, and she struggles to come to terms with the differences, such as the lack of prayers. Isabelle her employer is childless and trying to break the bounds of the conventions of the age and be a person in her own right, and is a photographer. Eldon is a frail cartographer who wants to go on expeditions but is frustrated by his own ill-health. Annie ends up trying to help each, acting as a muse and model for Isabelle and providing Eldon with someone to discuss expeditions and literature with. Both become romantically interested in her, creating a tense situation.

It's impossible to do justice to this book in a review - the only thing to do is read it. Both my friend and I loved the lyrical writing, which isn't surprising given that Humphreys is also known for her poetry. And in some ways it was reminiscent of Sarah Waters, due to the period setting and lesbian elements, but as my friend pointed out it considerably pre-dates Waters.

I enjoyed it so much that I couldn't resist buying Coventry (after all, I'd be able to lend it to my friend when done). After that I'd love to read Leaving earth, but unfortunately my friend has mislaid her copy. I'm very keen also to read the non fiction book that Humphreys wrote about Frost Fairs, having heard a fascinating programme on the subject on the radio two Christmases ago.

Monday 15 February 2010


Thank you everyone for your lovely congratulations and successfully guessing what my wonderful news is! We actually got engaged on Christmas Day, but have been waiting for the ring to make things "official". Isn't it gorgeous?! I couldn't resist putting this picture up as well - it's not completely off-topic as after all the bit in my profile says that I love baking, books and my boyfriend. Might have to make a change there, although fiance doesn't begin with B! No plans to set a date yet, it won't be for a year or so, and I need to get used to the sensation of having something on my finger!

It was a lovely Valentine's weekend as we had a wonderful trip on Saturday to see Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera house. It was an absolutely fantastic ballet - although it was 3 hours long it went very quickly, and we were wowed by the sets, huge cast and the dancing. This was good as I could easily have spent the whole performance staring at my left hand! On Sunday I baked, as you saw earlier, and we went to a special showing of Breakfast at Tiffany's at the cinema, before having some heart shaped pasta for supper!

Valentine's Day Baking

It's been a while since I've done any baking on the B files (for reasons of special diets and economy), but I hope you will make a cup of tea and sit down with some cake today. I asked my partner what he would like as a Valentine's Day treat, hoping to make white chocolate and cranberry brownies, a heart shaped mincemeat tart, a cherry pudding in heart-shaped ramekin, or something suitably wonderful to demonstrate my love. However, he requested fairy cakes with butter icing. Not particularly exciting, but I did manage to Valentine-ise them with some red icing, pink sprinkles, and pink cases.

I also have some exciting news - can you guess from the books that I've chosen? And the small object in the middle...

Friday 12 February 2010

Cornish cornucopia #2 Some memoirs

Fleurfisher mentioned The magic of a line, the memoirs of Dame Laura Knight, when she brainstormed ideas for Cornish books and I was immediately intrigued as I am familiar with Dame Laura Knight as an important war artist during the Second World War, producing paintings such as the one above to help maintain morale.

The memoirs are certainly interesting, although obviously written by an artist rather than a writer. We learn about Laura's early life, and having to go to university at the age of 13 to tran to be an art teacher due to impecunious family circumstances. There is some interesting information about being an artist, and the edition of the book that I borrowed from the library was heavily illustrated with wonderful plates of her drawings. The range of her work was extremely broad; in addition to war artistry, she also did a lot of painting of dancers such as Pavlova. The book also tells the story of her friendship and subsequent marriage to the artist Harold Knight.

Laura and Harold went to Cornwall after hearing that it had light that lasted longer than anywhere else in the country, obviously important for an artist, and settled briefly in Lamorna. There is unfortunately only really one chapter in the book that touches on their experiences in Cornwall but a lot of what she said about Cornwall rang true.

Towards the end in a "retrospective" on her life she writes:
"Cornwall is not like any other sort of country-it's no use trying to comapre it with any other place. There are times when you think everything is quite ordinary; and there are times when you feel you are not properly you, but someone else whom you don't in the least know; and an atmosphere prevails which takes away any sense or belief you have ever had, and you don't know why, but you aren't in England any more"

"I have to admit too that a longing for the sight of the Atlantic ocean and its constant change of mood often irks my mind"

After reading a review of Land girls gang up by Pat Peters in Cornwall today, I was keen to add this to my collection of Cornish memoirs. Although again not hugely literary, this is a fantastic story of the misadventures of some girls who go from London to Cornwall to be land girls during the Second World War. Long days, back breaking work, and little social life weren't easy but there were humorous events too, such as when the girls opened their packed lunches on the first day...
Taking a half moon shape from her food box Nell exclaimed "I've got a bleedin' piece of pie crust!"
"Don't be a chump, it's a pasty and its filled with something" Pauline told her.
Jackie eyed her half moon with suspicion before breaking it in half. Jame spilled from the pasty onto her dungarees "God how I hate jam"...
Those who had pasties were to find that something was almost anything. Kay and I found ours to be filled with potatoes, meat and onions while Pauline and Phyllis's held egg and bacon. Bunny's had apples and Jimmy waved hers aloft proclaiming "currants!".
Set in and around areas that I love in North Cornwall, it was interesting to have a historical perspective on what to me are holiday destinations.
Another set of memoirs which mention Cornwall briefly are those written by Molly Hughes, starting with London Child in the 1870s. This is the first in a series of wonderful autobiographical books by Hughes, the first of which has recently been republished by Persephone books. Hughes also wrote Vivians, a tale of her Cornish ancestors which is mainly set in Cornwall.

I then read Village by the ford by Gordon Channer. This is the story of a family who leave their life in a city to set up a caravan site in a wild valley in South Cornwall. A quote on the back of the book compared it to A town like Alice; I thought this was stretching it slightly. It's an entertaining story, but not hugely literary. Channer has written three more books about the adventures of the family, and although I won't rush to read them I'd be interested to find out how it all pans out!


I spent a lovely evening with Mary Wesley's Part of the scenery which is partly memoir, partly description of life in the Westcountry, and partly photographic illustration. Although its remit goes beyond the Cornish county, as as Devon-baby I was interested to read about other places that I know. Mary Wesley confesses in the text that she can't really remember which locations inspired her books, often they are a mishmash of several places that she knew. But I was tickled to find that like me she spent her childhood holidays in Polzeath, although this was many years earlier than I did, during the First World War. The wonderful photographs by Kim Sayer really complement the text and make for a virtual holiday.

Memoirs which deal more overtly with Cornwall which I have read are Myself when young (Daphne Du Maurier), A Cornish childhood (A.L. Rowse), Kisses on a postcard (Terence Frisby), Great Western Beach (Smith), We bought an island (Atkins) and its sequel Tales from our Cornish Island)

Another memoir that I intend to read is Schoolhouse in the wind (Anne Treneer). Does anyone have any other recommendations?

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Cornish acquisitions

Ahead of this week's Cornish post, I thought I'd share some of the Cornish acquisitions that snuck into my flat just before the book-buying ban was enforced. With the exception of the Cornish recipes book (which has some wonderful sounding bakes in), these are all novels set in the county which I hope to read over the coming months. I'll be writing reviews in due course, as they are lesser known Cornish books, but the next few weeks I'm going to concentrate on some genre posts, highlighting a range of books, and asking for more suggestions! Come back on Friday for some Cornish memoirs.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Lorna Hill

After going to two ballets in the space of two weeks (Tales of Beatrix Potter/Les Patineurs and The Nutcracker), I had a real desire to re-read some ballet books. Ballet books were one of my favourite genres as a child, starting with Ballet Shoes, and other Noel Streatfeilds, but also covering other authors such as Lorna Hill and Rumer Godden and Dorothy Richardson. For some reason it was Lorna Hill that I wanted to turn to, and although I had the first two titles of her "Wells" series, I had read them quite recently. It was not therefore surprising, that in an idle moment I found myself investigating the books on Amazon marketplace, and not long before I had bought most of the collection (see below for the full list)

I found that the first four books in the series are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain, the next six relatively easy to obtain (although I did not manage to get them all in the blue Piccolo editions that I remember reading as a child) and the last four virtually impossible to obtain.
Girls Gone By Publishing have published the last four books, but unfortunately these are now out of print. I have managed to find copies of two of them (beautiful editions featuring the old dustwrappers), so I am only missing the last two titles of the series - Vicki in Venice and The secret, but these will be expensive, so they are definitely wish-list titles for the future.

I love the idea of these books, the concept that ordinary girls can pursue their dreams and become ballerinas. How many little girls don't want to dance? Every time that I see a ballet I am overcome by the beauty of dancing and wish that I had kept up my ballet lessons for longer than a term. The ballet is also hugely romantic, and I am very lucky that my partner also likes the ballet and that we can go together.

My shopping also led me to the discovery that she has written some other series, including another ballet series called The Dancing Peel books. I ordered a couple of these to sample as well. She also wrote some non ballet books which I would love to see and a handful of books for adults.

As we have three more trips to the ballet lined up between now and the end of March (Romeo and Juliet this Saturday, Cinderella and La Fille mal gardee (all ballets which I have not seen before), I am sure that I will enjoy indulging myself in these comfort reads.

Are there any ballet books that you loved as a child?

(The full list is:
  1. A Dream of Sadlers Wells (1950)
  2. Veronica at the Wells (1951)
  3. Masquerade at the Wells (1952)
  4. No Castanets at the Wells (1953)
  5. Jane Leaves the Wells (1953)
  6. Ella at the Wells (1954)
  7. Return to the Wells (1955)
  8. Rosanna Joins the Wells (1956)
  9. Principal RĂ´le (1957)
  10. Swan Feather (1958)
  11. Dress-Rehearsal (1959)
  12. Back-Stage (1960)
  13. Vicki in Venice (1962)
  14. The Secret (1964))

Monday 8 February 2010

10 books meme

At the beginning of the year, I spotted this meme on Stuck-in-a-book, and then almost every book blog I read (well, it felt like it anyway!). It's probably a bit late to jump on the bandwagon but it was so interesting to read about the books which people chose that I thought you might like to see mine too.

(The original instructions for the meme are:
1.) Go to your bookshelves...
2.) Close your eyes. If you're feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or... basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself - where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc.....
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn't matter if you've read them or not - be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to...)

I'm afraid that I shamelessly chose all of they are...

and this is what I have to say about them.

How to be a domestic goddess (Nigella Lawson)
Regular readers will know that I love baking, and I have found much inspiration from this cookbook full of wonderful things such as these muffins. I aspire to being a domestic goddess, and feel that being able to make tasty cakes and biscuits and keep the house tidy is an important part that I have to play in the relationship I'm in.

Our hidden lives (Simon Garfield).
My first degree was in history, and whilst studying I developed a huge interest in the social and domestic history of the Second World War. I found out about the Mass Observation Archive from which these diaries are selected and have loved reading people's accounts of life in wartime Britain. I was not a distinguished scholar at university, but I did win a "Collection Prize" for an in-house exam on my WW2 paper, and it was with the book token I recieved that I purchaed this book.

Liquid Assets (Janet Smith)
Some of you may know my penchant for swimming, and in particular swimming outside. From an early age my Mum spent many summer days with me at an outside swimming pool and I am sure it was this which makes me feel so holidayish when I get to swim in an outdoor pool. In 2007, my partner and I tried to swim in as many different outdoor pools as possible; I think we managed about 15.

White bird flying (Nicholas Orme)
My father is a historian with a number of erudite history books to his name, but when I was small, he also had a book of children's short stories published (in fact, it was taken on by the Longman's Books for Schools project and is probably his bestselling work as it got sold to schools across the country). Before it was published, he appointed me to be his "publisher's reader" and say whether or not I thought it should be published! Unfortunately, Longman's wouldn't let him include a dedication, but luckily the main character in one of the stories is called Verity.

Astonishing splashes of colour (Clare Morrall).
I have only been given a handful of books in adult life, mainly because people worry that I will have already read what they choose, and this is one of them. I hadn't heard of it before I was given it and really enjoyed it, so it proves that it is worth taking the risk! It was a 20th birthday present from a friend who is no longer alive and hugely special. Incidentally, the author went to the same school as my friend and I!

Frost in May (Antonia White)
Some of you may have seen my other Virago Venture blog. Frost in May was both the first Virago Modern Classic, and the first one that I read..

Vanishing Cornwall (Daphne Du Maurier)
This book is no surprise to those of you who know how much I love Cornwall. I spent so much time there on holiday in my childhood and teens. This book is special because it combines my favourite place with one of my favourite authors.

Sunbathing in the rain (Gwyneth Lewis)
Subtitled "A cheerful book about depression", I was lent this in 2003 when I was extremely ill with depression. The book showed me that other people suffered from depression too, and that it was ok to feel like that. Hugely affirming for me at the time, I occasionally like to revisit it to remind myself how important it is to stay well.

One pair of hands (Monica Dickens)
I am a big fan of autobiographies, and I think that this started with this book, which was on the shelves of the flat we used to stay in in Cornwall. Every year as we arrived for our holiday, I would rush to check that this book was still there and reread it several times during our fortnight's stay.

The school at the chalet (Elinor M Brent-Dyer)
It seems strange that only one of these ten books is a children's book but this book is important for a number of reasons. It was a present from my Mum when we went to Austria for the first time, aged 8, and it was fantastic to be able to read a book set in the place we were visiting, sparking off an interest in "themed" literature. This book is the first in a series of over 60 books, and later in my life it provided my first impetus towards collecting, as I tried to obtain a complete set of the series (I was successful, but only by mixing different editions).

Friday 5 February 2010

Cornish cornucopia #1 : The camomile lawn (DVD)

I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response to my post last week about my plans to read plenty of Cornish books this year, so thank you to everyone for your suggestions. Fleurfisher has put together a wonderful list of ideas giving me even more inspiration, and I've made a list in a notebook of the titles that I definitely want to read. I've read quite a lot of Cornish books already, so at some point I think I will make a list of those for "completeness" sake. I am so very excited about it that I think there will be posts on this theme far more regularly than once a month, perhaps even once a week in the next nine weeks running up to Easter, which I am spending in the county.

I decided to kick off with a film rather than a book. I found a good long list of films made in the county, some of which I'd seen (Saving Grace, Ladies in Lavender, Rebecca, Jamaica Inn), some which didn't particularly appeal (Straw dogs, Johnny English), some which are completely out of print, and some which are on the "wish-list" of films I'd like to see: Amy Foster, Next of Kin, Johnny Frenchman. I have long been a fan of the Wycliffe tv series, and wish that they would bring them out on DVD, and I'm wondering about getting hold of Doc Martin, since that was partly filmed in Port Isaac which is very close to where we will be staying at Easter.

A trip to the library enabled me to borrow The camomile lawn, which is an adaption of the book by the same name by Mary Wesley. It was originally a television drama, and for my £1.25 rental fee I got 264 minutes of watching. It's been a while since I've read the book so I can't comment on how faithful the adaption is, but it was most enjoyable. Set mainly in Cornwall, on and after the eve of the Second World War, the drama tells the story of the Cuthbertson family - an aunt, uncle, cousins and an orphan, and some of their neighbours and how they are affected by the arrival of the war. They are all from the upper middle class, and from the richer section of society. Some of the book is set in London, reflecting their wartime experiences. There is love, drama, relationships and above all the lifechanging experience of living through the Second World War.

If I'm honest, the coastal scenery could have been anywhere, and not specifically Cornwall, although it was filmed in Veryan and Portloe (admittedly areas that I am not familiar with). But the period detail, especially in the parts filmed in London is fantastic - if you like wartime dramas then this is also one for you. The excellent cast includes Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington (familiar from The Good Life, although here they are married rather than neighbours), Tara Fitzgerald (another favourite of mine), and Jennifer Ehle.

I'm not sure which of Mary Wesley's novels are set in Cornwall, but I have discovered that she wrote a book called Part of the scenery, which is about the Westcountry region and her life, and have reserved this at the library. More on that in due course I expect!

Anyway, do let me know what your favourite Cornish films and television are, I'd be fascinated to know if there is anything else that I'd like that I might have missed.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Library loot

As you can see, I've been flexing my library card already, both to mitigate my self-imposed book buying ban and also to pursue some Cornwall themed reading. I had an excellent visit on Monday, picking up three brand new chick lit books, an older male-chick-lit book, and four Cornish books.

On the left-hand Cornish pile I have:
Careless in red (Elizabeth George) - I am already most of the way through it, and will be writing a post about Cornish detective fiction soon.
The magic of a line (Laura Knight) - the autobiography of an artist, which I have already read, and will be writing about along with other Cornish memoirs next week.
Plotted in Cornwall (Janie Bolitho) - another Cornish crime book from the Rose Trevelyan series.
Village by the ford (Gordon Channer) - another Cornish memoir which I hope to read before I write about Cornish memoirs

On the right-hand light reading in bed pile I have:
The life of Reilly (Paul Burke)
Seven secrets of happiness (Sharon Owens)
Moonshine (Christina Jones)
Twenties girl (Sophie Kinsella)
I've read books by all of these authors before, and as I like to read something light before I put the light out, I am stocked up for a while.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

January Reading

I've resolved to keep better track of my reading this year; I've been using a notebook to record it all in since 2003, but it is very difficult to track back what I have read by a particular author. I've been making a hasty transcription of years 2003-2008 (title and author surname), and a better one for 2009 (which I might post in due course if anyone is interested), and a proper one for 2010 showing whether the book was a re-read (RR), a Persephone (P), a Virago Modern Classic (VMC), an autobiography (AB), a biography (B), non fiction (NF), or a children's book. I'm also going to star my stand-out reads on a monthly basis.

People often wonder how I manage to read so much - well I should point out that I often read recipe books and children's books which don't take so much reading. I read at lunch, coffee and teatime, as well as in the evening and before I go to sleep. Having started a new job, I have been too tired to do much more than lie on the sofa with a book in the evenings!

So, here are the January "statistics", in order that I read them. My standout books for this month were Saplings (Noel Streatfield, a re-read), Brooklyn (Colm Toibin), Not so quiet
(Helen Zennor Smith), The pastor's wife (Elizabeth von Arnim), The happy foreigner (Enid Bagnold (review on VVV to come next month) and Minnie's room (Mollie Panter-Downes).

In February, I'm looking forward to reading some more Elizabeth von Arnim, re-reading some of Lorna Hill's children's books (more on that soon), and starting my 2010 Cornish Cornucopia in earnest.

Man in the picture Hill, Susan
Smile Please Rhys, Jean AB
The runaway Hart, Elizabeth P
Samantha Smyth Cavendish, Lucy
More to life than this Matthews, Carole
Saplings Streatfeild, Noel P, RR *
Misses Mallet Young, E.H. VMC
Gut Symmetries Winterson, Jeanette
On Roads Moran, Joe NF
Last year of being married Tucker, Sarah
Brooklyn Toibin, Colm *
Trust Flanagan, Mary
Daphne Du Maurier Country Shallcross, Martyn NF
Laurie and Claire Rowntree, Kathleen
Land of Green Ginger Holtby, Winifred VMC
True Deciever Jonsson, Tove
Eunice Fleet Tobias, Lily
The closed door and other stories Whipple, Dorothy P *
Stress family Robinson Plass, Adrian
Country Housewife's book Yates, Lucy P
Good evening Mrs Craven Panter-Downes, Mollie P
The shuttle Burnett, Frances Hodgeson P
Accidental marathon Hawking, Laura
My Antonia Cather, Willa VMC
The ghostly lover Hardwick, Elizabeth VMC
The tennis party Wickham, Madeleine
Not so quiet Zennor Smith, Helen VMC *
Good food on the aga Heath, Ambrose P
The pastor's wife Arnim, Elizabeth von VMC *
Dancing backwards Vickers, Salley
No great place Webb, Mary VMC
Tea with Mr Rochester Towers, Francis P
Rosettes for Jill Ferguson, Ruby C
The golden spur Powell, Dawn VMC
Plan B Barr, Emily
The Beth book Grand, Sarah VMC
When good friends go bad Campbell, Ellie
Blue skies Hodgman, Helen
Letty fox : her luck Stead, Christina VMC
Bradshaw variations Cusk, Rachel
Miss Chopsticks Xinran
Four frightened people Robinson, E. Arnot VMC
The south Toibin, Colm
The other family Trollope, Joanna
Peyton place Metalious, Grace VMC
Undercover mother Thompson, Erin
The happy foreigner Bagnold, Enid VMC *
The sheltered life Glasgow, Ellen VMC
Flush Woolf, Virginia P
Snoop: what your stuff says about you Gosling, Sam NF
Minnie's Room Panter-Downes, Mollie P *
Aleta Day Beynon, Francis VMC
Confessions of a reluctant recessionista Silver, Amy
Kate and the mystery pony Fielding, Kate C
Stone angel Laurence, Margaret VMC *
Time of secrets Pagnol, Marcel AB
Time of love Pagnol, Marcel AB
Tom tackles the Chalet School EBD C RR
A woman's place Adams, Ruth NF P
The curate's wife Young, E.H. VMC
The thinking reed West, Rebecca VMC
The thinking reed Llewellyn, Julia
Daughter of earth Smedley, Agnes VMC
Captivated Dudgeon, Piers B
We have always lived in the castle Jackson, Shirley
Jest of god Laurence, Margaret VMC
This charming man Keyes, Marian

Monday 1 February 2010

A frugal (and fairtrade) February (and March)

Owing to Christmas, an excess of book-buying necessitating new bookshelves (as you can see from the picture), having had a break between jobs, an unemployed partner, and the imminent arrival of Lent, I have decided that it's time for another spell of non-essential spending. We hope to buy a house this year, so I have a big incentive to save the pennies. The last time I did this, the support of those who read my blog was absolutely invaluable, and I'm sure I'll need it again as February is such a miserable time of the year. I intend to keep this up from now until my birthday (3rd April) which is Easter Saturday. So, no book-buying, clothes buying, DVD buying...and trying to cook from things in the cupboards where possible (we have a huge amount of food at home, yet still end up buying masses of groceries...however, if we are going to move house then I definitely don't want to move all of my supplies, so now is a good time to start getting things streamlined).

Fairtrade fortnight is also coming up, and one area where I don't plan to skimp is on fairtrade goods (particularly as they are often on special offer during this time). This year, the Fairtrade foundation are running The big swap and encouraging people to swap the items they usually use for fairtrade equivalents. I'm quite conscientious about using fairtrade items where they are available, and we always use fairtrade sugar, coffee, tea, and bananas. It's a little difficult for me to extend this with my current dietary restrictions, but I'm going to see how many extra things I can include (rice, honey, juice, herbs and spices...), and I'll do some fair trade baking for my partner, and hopefully resurrect bake of the week.