2018 – The Year of the Garden

For the past week or so I’ve been trying to write a post about my goals and resolutions for 2018. I’ve either lost interest halfway through or else got to the end and thought nobody will want to read this. That’s fair enough, because I do believe resolutions are very personal things, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I also think they’re not really relevant to anybody except those that they directly affect. So instead I’m going to write my Gardening Goals for this year, and try to bring my blog back to a more horticulture orientation, like it was in the beginning.

Garden planners

I’ve just made my first seed order of 2018. Last year I didn’t do much at all, other than nursing a dream. So this year I’m going to bypass the dream part and make it a reality! I’ve ordered a selection of January-sowing bedding plants and cut flowers. For a while we’ve talked about selling bedding plants and bunches of cut flowers; I’ve also thought about making and selling hanging baskets and containers. Out of all the things I do, I’ve found making up hanging baskets is the most peaceful, enjoyable way to spend half an hour.

For the past two years I’ve made hanging baskets for home and they’ve done so well with very minimal outlay and input. Now that we’re in a bigger house, there’s more wall space for more baskets! My mum has six baskets up in summer and I’d like that many too. I must say, my mother is the queen of hanging baskets, and she taught me how to do mine.

In the new house we have a decent-sized summer house. Other than housing a lot of riff-raff, it is a waste of space. I wanted to grow plumbago like in the Conservatory at Scampston Walled Garden, but I also want to turn it into a potting shed/greenhouse. It is fairly sheltered, having three mostly covered walls. I made these containers for my Nana for Christmas, and still have some bits left over.

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Last year I thought it might be nice to make hanging baskets and sell them, but something always got in the way. So this year, I’m just going to skip the excuses, and get down to it! I’m going to give growing my own bedding plants and hanging basket plants myself a go, and see if I can make up planters and pots as well as hanging baskets. I would also like to grow cutting flowers, mainly for home and to give as gifts, but possibly to sell bunches of if I have a big stock of them. I will get back into vegetable growing, but even if I just grow enough for home, I’ll be happy with that.

Things to do

Order January-sowing seeds – I did have a little heart attack when DT Browns said they were having a delay on posting seeds out, so hopefully they will come soon! I’ve drawn up an extensive list to order from Mr Fothergill’s as well. Dobies haven’t delivered my catalogue yet, and they are my seed merchant of choice. I’ve set a limit on spending (for this month anyway!) as I can see I’ll get carried away.

Tidy up summer house – this might be a bigger task than first envisaged, as it is full of a lot of junk from the house, but even if I can just make a nice corner to work in. Structurally it’s sound – my Grandad knew what he was doing when he built things. I have my Gardener’s World calendar to hang up, plus I think this will be the home for my whiteboard.

Look at shelves and greenhouse heating – my idea is to have shelving by the glass and also at the back in the shade. With it being still a bit cold in winter, I’m contemplating whether a heater will be a sensible investment. Pay day is still a while off and I’m probably spending what pennies I might have left for that on seeds. Mum did say she has a little paraffin heater so I might play with that.

Equipment – I need to get module trays and pots all washed and cleaned, and also some compost and vermiculite procured from somewhere. I could also do with some decent gloves; my last pair got wrecked up at the farm and the ones I’m using at the moment are definitely more your “decorative” sort.

Vegetable patches – at my mum and dad’s I have a greenhouse and two forlorn vegetable patches. The greenhouse needs cleaning and ideally disinfecting, and the raised beds need digging over with some manure. Handily I know there are great big piles of manure led over the summer so I might need to ask dad if he doesn’t mind me filling the quad trailer with shit. It’s a long way to go with a wheelbarrow.

Order vegetable seeds – in all my excitement about flower seeds, I haven’t actually done any vegetable seed ordering! I’ve made a list of what I want to grow, mainly up at my mum and dad’s. At least now we all live in the same village so I can just walk there. I might even get a bicycle!

Business stuff – it might be a bit early, but I suppose it can’t hurt to be thinking about a name and a logo, if I want to really make a go of it. I’ve already had ideas about logos. I might go down the route of Facebook groups and word-of-mouth stuff first, and see how we get on with stock and the market kitchen idea before going to any larger scale.

Think ahead! – this is always a biggie. I think problems in the past have stemmed from either over-excitement in the beginning leading to burn out, or else not planning correctly. Even though I’m working full time, helping Scott on the farm, doing a house up and trying to finish my book, I still have this deranged idea of devoting time to growing stuff. The best thing I can do is plan my time accordingly, and think ahead. So while I’m sorting out January sowing and setting everything up, I need to think about what to sow in February and March, what can go where, what my space will be like.

So keep checking back, or sign up for updates, to see how my progress is going!

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Things I don’t like about Christmas

In part 2 of my festive special, I look at the madness this time of year seems to inspire in one and all, and some of the things I don’t like.

They say as you get older, Christmas – much like birthdays – don’t mean the same as before. It’s just another way to mark the passing of time – another year gone, and what have you done with your life? I love Christmas, but I must admit, in the past couple of years, I have felt a slight panic with it. Part of that is why I try to make the most of this time of year.

Burnt Christmas cake – a symbol of times to come?

I try not to be a negative person, but I try to be relatively realistic about things. And that includes not turning a blind eye to the problems I have with Christmas:

The Dreaded Christmas Shop

I always remember coming back from uni and going to the big Morrisons in Malton (since the Co-op in Pickering, where we lived, in the days of pre-Lidl, was insufficient for the task at hand) and being horrified. We, like the rest of the county it seemed, would decide to do the big shop on the 23rd or even Christmas Eve in a whirlwind of panic. The shops are shut on Christmas Day! What if we run out of milk, bread, cranberries, Brussels sprouts, alcohol, lemonade, toilet roll, foil, etc., etc. The supermarket bosses must be sitting up in their offices rubbing their hands together. I swear to you now, every single person – and their woe-betide partner in crime – had one of the big trolleys (you know which I mean, the really deep ones that you have to climb into to get stuff out of at the checkout, legs flailing in the air, in danger of kicking little old ladies) and it was packed to overflowing with every piece of inconsequential unnecessary mass-produced rubbish, all because the shop would be shut for one day and Auntie Sandra would do her nut if you don’t have her gin and slimline tonic.

I used to have borderline panic attacks when stood in the middle of the pigs in blankets. Something very wild comes over people at this time of year and more fool you if you stand in their way.

Since I am now chief shopper in our household and have been for two years now, I have a lot of first hand experience in the world of the supermarket. Since the first day on the advent calendar was opened, the furious panic of Christmas has set in. There are twice as many shoppers on the Morrisons floor, the shelves are running out of bread, and cream, and they long since sold out of mixed fruit. Everywhere is a riot of colour and bargains and must-have items. It makes you sick.

As we are doing Christmas this year, I might go down one of two routes: buy as much as I can from proper independent shops, the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s (my chicken is already on order with our local butcher), or else, if I run out of time (likely), go to the Lidl and buy in bulk/freeze in advance.

Forgetting something?

I am a sufferer of chronic guilt. It courses through my veins in place of blood. I’m guilty of so many things – not keeping my house clean, not cutting my grass enough, not pursuing my dreams, not succeeding at work. This time of year is the worst. It must be down to the lack of sunlight, the hours kept inside in the dark, with only my own thoughts for company. The social battle of present-giving is a main player here. Did I spend enough on person x? Oh no! So-and-so posted me a Christmas card, who I’ve only spoken to once in July, and now I have to find a spare one for them. Should I attend this village lights switch on? Nope, too late. What about choir singing? Nope, can’t get back in time from work.

One Christmas, when we had moved to the farm and I still lived at home, Mum was begrudgingly prepping for the big dinner when she realised a critical error – we’d run out of plain flour for the Yorkshires. This is a catastrophe. So Dad, Bilbo and I got wrapped up and we marched down to Grandad’s house to raid his cupboards for a pack of flour two years past its sell-by date.

There was nothing wrong with those puddings!

Moral of the story is – check your cupboards, and get a grip. It’s only one day, as I’m repeatedly told.

Seasonal Inertia

The days are short and dark, the nights are long and darker still, it’s cold out and it keeps trying to snow. Already we’ve had two gos at snow in the past two weeks, which is more than we’ve had in a long while. I’m driving to and from work in darkness and it’s really no fun. Then when I get home all I want to do is curl up and go to bed – the last thing I want to do is mess about with chores, cooking tea, and I even don’t have energy to do any writing (probably why I’m doing this in the morning).

The lack of sunlight has a lot to do with low mood. I feel so unproductive in winter. Christmas cards have yet to be written, presents – the few that I’ve bought – aren’t anywhere near to being wrapped. It’s tiring, and I totally get why people jet off in search of summer sun.

It’s the most wonderful time of year – it’s Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, where any stock phrase summons up jingle bells and a melody. Or else Noddy Holder bursts out of your subconscious screaming down your lughole. But it’s fine, because it’s Christmas!

As a child, I loved Christmas. Absolutely loved it. Even despite deciding, on a trip to Lapland at about 7 years old, that Father Christmas no longer existed because the “real” Father Christmas would have known I had no brothers or sisters to play Twister with. Not only that, but I was very suspicious of Mrs Christmas. More like Mrs Santa’s Sister if you ask me.

I love the whole winter set up. Mince pies, mulled wine. I cope a lot better in cold weather than hot weather. When we go up to the farm I wear a pair of leggings under jeans with my waterproofs on top, and then a vest, t-shirt, jumper, hoodie and fleece-lined jacket. I might look like the Michelin man but I’m warm enough – especially when I get chopping fodder beet. I always think you can put more clothes on when it’s cold but when it’s hot, you get to a point when you can’t take more off.

I put the tree up at the weekend and have finally got round to decorating it.

The first lot of lights now don’t work so we have improvised. I also seem to have lost another box of decorations – this is the problem with moving before Christmas!

I’m not sure where December has come from, really. I’m still convinced it’s NaNoWriMo and I have plenty of time yet. I still have loads of presents to get and Christmas cards to write, not to mention the Christmas dinner to prepare for – we’re hosting this year! I’m quite sure I can just stick HeartXmas on the radio and get by. I’m not sure where this uncharacteristic optimism has come from. I must be mellowing in my old age.

Things I love about Christmas

Present – for me?? One from last year’s.

How Christmas feels

Christmas cheer has to be up there – and by cheer I just mean that magical atmosphere that come December seems to infect the world. I love walking round town when all the Christmas lights are on, driving past doors with wreaths hanging, catching the odd song on the radio. The sight of Brussels sprouts in the supermarket greengrocer’s is enough to fill anyone’s heart with joy. (I also just had to google how to properly write Brussels sprout – who knew the third s is obligatory? And I pretend to be a home vegetable grower, shame on me!)

I do think this time of year does something to people. For some people, it imbibes them with an inescapable hysteria married with stress, panic and too much to do in too little time. That will probably be me come 23rd December when I’ve finished work and realise I have so much yet to do. But for others, they seem to light up from within with a beautiful rosy glow that is quite simply wonderful. I would like to think that’s me up until 22nd, but we’ll see.

I’m hoping to make a pair of wreaths this year. I’ve bought two frames of differing sizes and have watched Youtube videos in the hope of conquering my dream to become a homemade queen. Pfft. Anyway, if you see me loitering around the countryside with a pair of secateurs, just walk on by.

The sound of Christmas

One of my favourite things about Christmas is music. Every year I gather my selection of specific Christmas/wintry CDs and have them on permanent rotation in the car. Except this year I got Taylor Swift’s Reputation so I’ve been listening to that on an eternal loop because I’m pretty digging it. But my essential Christmas listening has had an update this year, with my favourite singer of all time, Tarja Turunen, releasing a Christmas CD (!!!).

Tarja – From Spirits and Ghosts

Here is the list for 2018:

  • Katherine Jenkins – This is Christmas
  • Michael Buble – Christmas
  • Tarja – From Spirits and Ghosts (A Score for a Dark Christmas)
  • Nightwish – Oceanborn
  • AFI – Decemberunderground

Special mention must also be given to Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials, which always reminds me of this time of year, plus the deliciously wicked A Grim Christmas by Dark Sarah, a standalone song from a new artist I discovered this year.

Now I know there are some random choices in there, and Michael Buble stands a mile out. But Nightwish covered Walking in the Air, and Sacrament of Wilderness has to be the wintriest, snowiest song ever. And how can you have Christmas without a song called Love Like Winter?

I love me a good carol, and both Tarja and Katy J cover one of my favourite traditional hymns, O Come O Come Emmanuel. Tarja’s version of We Three Kings is sublime.

In terms of pop Christmas – you can’t beat a good bit of Shakin’ Stevens!

Food

I love Christmas food. I went to Harrogate the other weekend with my girlies and we went to Costa and all four of us had the pigs in blanket panini. Oh my God, it was quite out of this world. The perfect union of savoury, sweet, peppery – it was mind-blowing. I still think about it to this day.

We are having my family over for Christmas. My mother’s comment was “since you have the nice new cooker you can do Christmas”. So I’m catering for 6, which will be the biggest number I’ve had to cook for before. Luckily I have a gorgeous Belling range with two (!) ovens. Contrary to tradition, we’re having a big chicken rather than a turkey. Some people don’t like turkey, Nana’s making a goose for those of us that like goose, and so we need a chicken. I did us two a Sunday roast yesterday and the chicken crisped up wonderfully so pleased with that, and my Yorkshires were like mountains.

I baked a fruit cake for Pickering horty show and while it didn’t come anywhere – I didn’t even get the family leaning, can you believe! – I think if I shave the burnt bits off and cover it with icing, it’ll be gorge. It smells wonderful and Christmassy. One thing I make every year is a Roulade – not sure where I’ll find the time for that!

I’m not looking forward to the Christmas food shop, but I’ll leave that for a Things I Don’t Like About Christmas post.

Faith

In recent years, Christmas has become very commercialised and very consumer-driven, though I do believe we are seeing a resurgence in the meaning of Christmas – you can take it to its pagan roots, or we can go Christian. While I’m not an avid church-goer, I am religious, and I do work in an establishment that does have its own abbey, so I’m around it a lot. I’ve gone to Midnight Mass numerous times with Nana, and while we didn’t go last year because it was out at one of the further parishes, I still watched the televised version, which is a bit more serious than I’m used to.

The family emphasis always makes me think of those no longer with us. I’m of an age now that means I have felt the cruel exploitation of time. As someone who gets emotional at the slightest thing, and I mean a particularly sad cello solo can get me going for no reason other than it was beautiful, it can be a sad time of year. So I try to make the most of it with my family, and look to the future.

What are your favourite things about Christmas? Put them in the comments!

Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading, and look out for ‘Things I Don’t Like About Christmas’, coming to a Scrooge near you!

October – Hello Autumn

Happy October, folks!

Can you believe it’s October already? This year just seems to have flown by. In all fairness, however, I seem to have done lots of different things – from April I was working in a busy cafe, and since September I’ve been working back in an office. Suddenly all the time I had to do my writing and blogging and crafting (not to mention house moving) has disappeared! When I realise things like that, I seem to always develop that Smonday feeling (you know, that point on Sunday you realise it’s going to turn into Monday) – but for the whole year, and it gets me a little panicky. So something needs to change!

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October is one of my favourite months. The leaves are changing, ushering in the promise of cosy nights in when it’s dark and cold out. But there are some days of bright, glorious sunshine. Like we’ve had the past few days here in Yorkshire. Christmas is on the horizon, far enough away not to dominate everything, but just close enough to begin planning for (kudos to those already doing their Christmas shopping!). But most of all, I like Halloween.

As a kid, there weren’t many places in my village that doled out the goodies for earnest trick-or-treaters. I remember getting to one house and being told, “sorry, somebody beat you to it!” and having the door shut in my face. But I wasn’t that bothered about trick-or-treating. I liked the Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathons, listening to funky Halloween music, and eating vaguely spookified food. Especially when I got to my teens and went through a bit of a goth phase, then it was Whitby Goth Weekend, getting all dressed up and going over the moors to traipse around all the stalls and wish I was able to afford and wear the amazing clothes. At uni, we used to get all dressed up and go out – one year I recall being an undead bunny, a la Regina George from Mean Girls, and the bus went straight past our stop and we had to walk into town, and the heel on my amazing cyber-goth boots bust. They still weathered an amazing night out at Duchess.

Last Halloween, it was a spooky affair for a different reason. We spent it chasing cattle around the village after they managed to get out of the field. Driving along a dark country lane and the headlights picking out a Holstein bull in the middle of the road is spooky in its own right, especially when in the yard we only had one little torch and the pick-up headlights to see with.

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I don’t have any plans for Halloween this year, but I’d like to listen to one of my Halloween playlists, maybe watch a vintage episode of Supernatural, and have a chilled-out evening.

Essential listening

I’ve made a Spotify playlist which I will probably listen to constantly from now until the end of the month. It’s got your usual suspects – Werewolves of London, Monster Mash and what have you – but in a homage to the bit of my goth history that I still love, I’ve chucked in a few totally seasonally-appropriate metal bangers. These are from some of my absolute favourite bands and performers – obviously, Leah, Tarja, Within Temptation, Epica – and I ask you, what Halloween playlist is complete without La Danse Macabre du Vampire by those Italian godfathers, Theatres des Vampires? None, that’s what!

 

I might keep adding to it as the big night approaches, so check back for new tracks! Also, if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them! I’m always up for discovering new music – this year I started listening to Dark Sarah, and last year it was the turn of Leah, who are now two of my favourite artists!

Don’t you think it’s great that metal music champions so many female artists? For a genre that, I’m sure, for a lot of people conjures up visions of sweaty dirty men moshing around in a grimy nightclub, it has such a strong female workforce and fan base. Long may it continue!

Essential watching

What’s Halloween without seasonally appropriate telly? A couple of years ago, around Halloween, I got right into Supernatural, and I’m meaning fangirl territory here. I have the Funko Pop dolls, a Castiel keyring, and Redbubble t-shirts. I’ve watched up to halfway through season 12 and then my Sky had an issue, and while it’s still great, watchable stuff, it’ll never recover from the dizzy heights of Seasons 4 and 5. I mean, Lucifer? Angels? The Apocalypse?

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Jet the cat’s favourite Halloween outfit is Toothless the dragon

American telly always does Halloween well, I guess because they buy into it so much over there. For us, it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, I always think. We save our ghost stories for Christmas. I do have a dream, in this crazy brain of mine, to do a Halloween special of one of my later books – but that will be a while coming, I think.

Essential reading

Hello, English Literature graduate here! Considering I wrote my MA dissertation on Camilla, I’m probably meant to be something of an expert on this…

  • Not a big fan of Dracula, but you can go there if you want
  • Camilla by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu is spooky enough in itself
  • The Anita Blake series, by Laurell K Hamilton, makes Twilight’s sparkly vampires look like kids dressing up. Like anything, it lost it towards the end, and I never finished the series. Books 3 – 6, though, are pretty awesome. Vampires, lycanthropes, voodoo priestesses, necromancers – it’s a whole world out there.
  • Anne Rice’s vampires – I’d go for Lestat or Queen of the Damned
  • A Discovery of Witches is my *cough* September Goodreads Challenge (in progress, I know, I’m such a bad book blogger!)
  • Controversial, perhaps, but I do think JK Rowling got a lot of the atmosphere spot on for a witchcraft and wizardry school in Harry Potter

There are probably loads more – there’s no Stephen King on my list, or any real ghost stories, either. As ever, chuck me your recommendations. I might get round to them by Halloween 2018!

Essential eating

Now here’s a good one! What do you eat for Halloween? Rare steaks? Garlic mushrooms? One year I made cupcakes and covered them in royal icing so they looked like ghosts. Nigella Lawson has a whole load of spooky delights in Feast – witches’ hair spaghetti, a ghoulish graveyard cake. Tescos have lots of green muffins and things, which both me and my mum pulled right faces at. Pumpkins, an essential part of Halloween, provide an idea – pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin, and that American staple, pumpkin pie.

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Do you have any great recipes? Let me know!

I’m intending to enjoy Autumn to the full this year. I might not be going trick or treating but I’d like to think I might gather up some conkers.

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And what’s Halloween without a black cat? This is little Luna, when she was littler than she is now!

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Happy Halloween!

August’s Goodreads Challenge – Lucky Jim

Here’s to a bad book blogger!

In August, I think it was, I was meant to read Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. A short book about mishaps in academia, I thought it would be a quick zip through – probably why I didn’t pick it up until the last week in August. But then somehow life caught up with me and tripped me up, and now look at me: writing that review in October! It took me most of September to finally read. So then, having not learnt from my mistakes, I picked an even bigger book to try and cram in the last five days of September – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Hackness. Well, in terms of speed I’m managing that much better, but it’s October now and I’m not even halfway through.

I’ve not been reading much and I’ve certainly not been writing much. It makes you feel loads rubbish about it all – even though I know things like self-imposed challenges aren’t exactly life or death. There has been a lot going on recently, and I am trying to organise myself. I started a new job, we’re moving house, lots of exciting things are happening on the farm – and slowly I’m getting back into writing.

I enjoyed Lucky Jim and I did laugh out loud for quite a few bits. It’s not my usual fare and reads a little too high-brow-making-fun-of-low-brow. I think my main issue was with the character of Jim. He thought too much about all of the wrong things, and while his escapades were very funny and outrageous, it all just felt a little too heartless. The university environment was nicely recreated, and there was something great about his eternally-distracted head of department. While I maybe didn’t have a lecturer quite at that level, there were echoes of familiarity.

I’ve started on A Discovery of Witches and while I’m fighting the neverending stereotypes that perpetuate that kind of supernatural writing – of which I’ve read a great deal – I am enjoying it. It is reading a little bit like Twilight for graduates, and I can’t help but see Matthew Clairmont as a bit of a cliche. There’s time yet, though!

I have three more books in my stack to read. At least one is non-fiction, another is an Ian McEwan, and I can’t remember what the third one is. As I’m packing things up for the big move, I can help but stress at the sheer volume of books I own. I’m a book addict!

 

The Goodreads Challenge – July’s slight change, Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Hello all! Now I know what you may be thinking – it’s not the beginning of a new month, let alone the end of the last, so why am I updating my Goodreads Challenge now? Well, it’s because I have failed. Semi-failed, let’s call it.

As you may recall, for July I was meant to be reading Ben Wilson’s history of the British Navy, Empire of the Deep. However, it is the last week of the month and I am barely a quarter of the way through. I’m enjoying it but it’s hard going. There’s a lot of history, a lot of people and place names, and a lotta lot of writing. Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, I don’t fancy ploughing through a thesis on the Spanish Armada.

So I’m tweaking my Goodreads Challenge – just for July. And since I’ve had this book on my shelves for longer than Empire of the Deep, and began and finished it in the month of July, then my month’s read will be Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss. And according to my Goodreads, I have read 11 out of my pledged 12 books to read this year! (I have the rest of my own challenge to read too, so I should be well on my way to a good book year.)

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A bit of a blue theme for the current books. If I knew anything about photography I would make more of this…

I was drawn to this book because of its connection to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters, prolific in Victorian England. My favourite artist is John William Waterhouse, who wasn’t a core member of the Brotherhood but affiliated nonetheless, and one reason why I chose to study my MA at Hull was because they offered a module in Victorian Literature and the Visual Arts. After reading this book, I wish I had encountered it when I was writing my dissertation, as it definitely ties into my study of the female protagonist/antagonist and the use of hysteria/lunacy to demean and belittle women.

To begin with, I was quite confused, as the part of the book the blurb talks about happens much further in, so for a while I wondered if there was a typo on the sleeve, the characters of Ally and May bearing too much similarity to the names of Elizabeth and Mary, who we encounter first. Elizabeth is the mother of Ally and May, married to Alfred Moberley, a painter and artist, and if it was her goal to transform into her own mother, she achieves it perfectly, and then some. The story is set mostly in Manchester, though we move to London later on, and follows chiefly Ally, who struggles to achieve the nigh-impossible aspirations her mother has dreamt up for her, inspired both by her own upbringing and issues following Ally’s birth. As she aspires to things only just becoming available to her gender, her unresponsive mother just sets the bar higher, even as Ally smashes Victorian versions of the glass ceiling as she studies and works herself nearly to death to qualify as one of the first female doctors.

I really enjoyed this book, once I got over the initial hurdle. Moss writes – I don’t know if this makes sense – like an Oxbridge graduate, but her descriptions are sparse and evocative of the Victorian family life. The exchanges between Ally and May, particularly when they are left alone as their parents go away and the girl who works for them disappears, are so believable, and I loved their arguments about the laundry. Poor Ally lives in terror of her mother’s disapproval but May is the typical second child – can do no wrong.

I would have liked more about the artwork, and the artists, purely for my own interests. But I soon got caught up in Ally’s life and invested in her progress as she faced the trials against her. Moss skilfully depicts Ally’s mental health, outbursts of nightmares and episodes of suffocation brought about by her mother’s gargantuan expectations and treated in typical Victorian ways – bruising, burning, slapping and the general demeaning treatment of medical staff and the people around her. Elizabeth, Mrs Moberley, works with poor and abused women and mothers and constantly compares her daughter’s struggles with those of people who have no money, no opportunity and never seem to grumble despite the horrors thrown at them. It is a powerful parallel to today’s treatment of those with mental health problems. While we might acknowledge the illness nowadays and be trying to tackle it, Moss’s novel exposes the Victorian attitudes most people hold towards it today. Mental health is not directly comparable – it is so individual and particular, what would be manageable to Person A just tips Person B off the cliff.

So I would definitely recommend this somewhat secret gem of a book to anyone interested in the Pre-Raphaelites/Arts and Crafts movement, Victorian literature, gender studies and mental health.

I’m still persevering with Empire of the Deep. It’s a worthy read and I’m learning loads, and it will run nicely alongside my nautical fantasy novel I’m writing. To keep me ticking over till August I’ve picked up Amanda Owen’s A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess, though I do have the new Robin Hobb book ready and waiting in the wings. My next book, for August, will by Lucky Jim. My book that I’m writing has a university setting for part of it so this book will help with that.

What are you reading? Have you read Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light? Or anything similar? Let me know in the comments!

Mid-year recap and plans for the rest

July is very much here and I spent the weekend at Castle Combe race circuit for the RSOC track day with my dad and our friends. It’s been my first proper car day of the year and it was great fun. I passengered all but one session with Dad in the Subaru and had an ace time.

Dad’s new trailer, but hang on a minute – that’s not a GTR inside!

Half of the year is gone already! I’m still enjoying my little job and it’s keeping me out of trouble, though I’ve not had nearly as much time to do my writing or even my blog as I’d have liked. I manage to get up early enough to do maybe an hour before work – or I get up earnestly intending to do an hour before work, but I usually mess around on social media and news sites for about half an hour. As for my blog, it looks like I manage my book review and that’s it!

Things I’ve achieved so far

I’ve finished my third draft of my book! This is the big one, so now it should just be a brutal edit and then I’m hoping to send it out to agents. I’ve started editing the first part and so far have cut a chapter out, which bodes very well as in total I wanted to cut 6 – 8 chapters. Considering once upon a time the story had about seventy chapters and 350,000 words I’m not doing too bad condensing it down.

We’ve got on a bit with the other house. I’ve cleared most moveable stuff away into storage (or the wheelie bin) and so now we’re looking at the big things. Dad pulled a load of the kitchen units out and I had pulled up all the carpet tiles in there so now it’s on to picking out cookers and worktops! The kitchen and bathroom are the two big jobs so once they’re done and the new flooring is down we should be on it. I spent ages weeding the garden and pulling out monstrous dandelions. Like a bad blogger I didn’t take any before or after pictures of the garden. I’m really excited to live in a bigger house and especially one that has such strong family connections.

I’ve kept up with my reading challenge! I’ve managed to read each of my books for the month and some months I’ve read quite a few extra. It’s a great thing to do as I purposefully diversified the books on my list, and this month I’m reading a non-fiction book about the British navy. I’m trying to read all the books I have on my bookshelves before buying any more, as part of both my decluttering and money-saving goals for the year.

I managed to get my hanging baskets done and they look so pretty now that they’re filling out. I really like being out in the garden and really enjoyed making these. I did nurture a dream of making a little business out of it, but the time is passed (as with all such ideas I have). I’m trying in earnest to keep on top of my wild little garden but every time I turn around there are weeds everywhere, and I have terrible problems with bindweed coming from the wilderness next door, strangling my Viburnum, which makes me so mad. I keep nagging my dad to come and cut my hedge because it’s almost as bad as the one next door. Some lovely flowers are coming out though which is lovely to see.

Things to do for the next half of the year

Edit my book – aggressively, but not to the point where I lose sight of what I’m trying to say. Having a little break since finishing the draft has helped, as I’ve managed to – so far – approach the chapters with a slightly more objective view. I struggled with chapter one as I knew that everything my writing group had said about it was right and I was scared to try and remake it in a more effective way, but after a couple of false starts I think we’re there! I want to get on with it a bit quicker. I’m trying to get up at the same time every morning (earlyish) to spend a little bit of time on it each day. It’s silage time too so while Scott is busy on the farm (and I can’t help) I can sit and write, which I will do, without the telly on or anything.

I really want to get back into making things. I’ve not done much baking since I bake a lot at work, but I’ve not done any crafting at all. I have lots of kits – needle felting and cross stitch, including something I’ve been making for my mum for a birthday for yonks now – and I just haven’t got on with them at all. I also wanted to design a series of Christmas cards starring Bilbo (as he looks so very Christmassy) and did a trial run in March/April for Mum’s birthday, making this picture.

So I want to crack on a bit more with that – design my cards, maybe make a picture or two, and try to do some more cross stitch.

Obviously the house is still a big priority. We want to move in while I’m still pulling a decent wage (though I still want to get a job for over winter) so I can build my savings back up, and also so I can afford to buy nice things for the house – not that I feel much like shopping at the moment. I can walk round a shop and see loads of pretty things and yet not feel compelled to buy one! There are bits to do to the garden in the new house and I just need to finish the little bits inside that I can do before we have to get in workmen.

I have loads of clothes I want to sell on eBay too, nice things that I’ve worn once or twice and never got round to again. I also want to go through my CD and DVD collection and take a load to Cex and/or list on eBay. I’m getting fed up of living in a world of clutter, and while a lot of that comes from having too much stuff in too small a place, I still don’t want to just fill the new house up with stuff (which is very easy to do).

Finally, this blog! It needs a good lot of work. I need a new header, loads of photos, and a few more posts. My blog is meant to support my writing, and be the backing for my eventual website. Someday I would like to make a Facebook page plus host a Twitter chat for my writing. I’m really inspired by the Canadian musician Leah, who is one of my favourite artists of all time (and I’m totally not saying that just because she followed me on Insta, such love!!), who doesn’t tour to support her music while she raises her children, and yet is super active on social media and has amassed a great following. I think nowadays it’s so much easier to connect with fans and potential followers, and it’s something I need to be making use of more.

So tell me about your achievements so far, and your mid-year goals!

Goodreads Challenge – June, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

This is a novel written in modern times but in the very convincing fashion of a Victorian crime thriller. Michael Cox is a history buff of the era so he is a safe pair of hands. The story reads confidently enough, especially for a debut, but reading through the acknowledgements it’s obvious that this has been a long labour of love.

Edward Glapthorn, or Glyver, or others, is our protagonist who opens the story with the most convincing first line I’ve probably ever had the pleasure to read:

“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

Move over Jane Austen! This is exactly the sort of opening line we get told about in writing classes. Grab the reader’s attention, get ’em wanting to read more. And Cox certainly does that.

The world-building is good, with a whirlwind of locations in London (eateries, roads, locales) traversed, often with a helpful Editor’s Note (not that such a thing means a great deal to me, to whom London is a big fog). But beyond that we are immersed in a cultural creation, too, which reminds me greatly of one of my favourite books, AS Byatt’s Possession. Here too we have a poet of the era, convincingly invented, with the irresistible name of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. And this is our villain, who we barely even see, in a psuedo-Rebecca role. The first half of the novel is devoted to pursuing this man, though we aren’t given the real reason until partway through, at which point Daunt decreases his importance as an agent and instead what he is blocking becomes the bigger goal.

Cox succeeds in creating the typical Victorian style. Hot on the heels of being swamped by Radcliffe’s somewhat clumpy, clunky prose, Cox streamlines it, but only to a suitable point. In Victorian literature, a character doesn’t just leave a room; he admires everything, from the chaise-longue by the window to the writing desk made by the famous carpenter to twenty volumes on the bookshelf. and usually a nugget of information is concealed within all this description, something which throws a speed reader like me.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I read the last 100 pages on the journey down to Castle Combe in a hurry to finish it for the end of the month. At times Edward’s voice started to annoy me, but we were luckily provided with a short reprieve in the form of another character’s account. His hedonism and reliance on substances while he went through his existential crisis phase (or woe-is-me Harry Potter 4 & 5 phase) felt a little stale, but it fit with the obsessive aspects of his personality. The ending was quite satisfying (no spoilers here!). It only took me so long to read because again I had a few other bits to do and I took about a week off reading it.

If you like Victorian literature, murder mysteries or crime thrillers, I definitely recommend it. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for ages. I will also recommend the other book I mentioned, too, Possession by AS Byatt, as I love that book and it goes further to actually create the poetry.

Now I’ve taken on maybe a bit more than I can chew here with July’s choice.

I had a couple of non-fiction reads in the pile that I’ve been steering clear of and so I decided to pick one up. I love anything to do with the sea and one of my own books is going to be partially set at sea in a naval environment, so I’m on with Ben Wilson’s Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy. I’ve read about fifty pages and am really enjoying it, but as it’s a historical narrative it’s taking a good bit longer as I need to concentrate. The font is teeny tiny and a fair few things I don’t have a clue on. Why do all kings have to have similar names? So far I’m keeping up, but Wilson’s style is conversational to the point of being on first name terms with Edwards I – III, to the point where I don’t know which one is being talked about.

I am entertaining the idea of reading one of my fiction books alongside, maybe Lucky Jim, to give two months to read this mammoth beast of a book. I’m determined not to fail in my quest!

How is your reading going?

Writing Recap – How To Edit

Why pay an editor when you can get a Luna to do it for you? This is my little Lunabelle helping me with some writing. “Helping” meaning clambering all over the keyboard chasing my hands because it’s much more important for me to be fussing her than writing. And with such big green eyes who can resist? But this is the whole point – editing, I find, requires a solid strength of will to resist distractions and procrastination. So sorry Luna, but you have to wait!Update! I have been quite quiet of late – that’s for various things: new job, work on the other house, trying to finish my Goodreads Challenge for May (see blog post here) and a little bit of writing! I am now very pleased to say that as of  6th June 2017 I have finished my third draft of MFB. This means I’m now about to start editing.

How well is it going, you might ask? Well… I’ve done countless loads of washing, shredded a load of unwanted paper, tidied up my front room a bit, organised the back bedroom, cleaned my sink, disinfected everything in the house, scrubbed my wellies and my Dubarrys, washed the dog and cat bowls, and drunk umpteen cups of tea…

So this is my guide on How To Edit!

  • Get comfortable in your writing nook, with a cup of tea and the most motivating, content-appropriate playlist you can find on Spotify
  • Drink that first cup of tea and enjoy it so much you go make another
  • Struggle to find a suitable playlist and waste time scrolling through Spotify
  • Find that your writing nook attracts an unpleasant draft or has dodgy lighting, and search for another place
  • End up cross-legged on the sofa
  • Forget cup of tea, get up for it
  • Open first chapter of novel on computer
  • Create a document for editing purposes
  • Fancy a snack, end up making dinner
  • Leave pots strewn all over, but decide to start reading chapter one
  • Make a couple of notes on editing diary
  • Wash up, dry pots and put away, repeat for next lot
  • Realise that TV programme is on you wanted to watch – time for a break, no?
  • Try and fail to read and watch at the same time
  • Make another cup of tea
  • Find a pot left on the side that wasn’t washed up and lose mind
  • Finally get comfy on sofa with computer and cup of tea
  • Start to read, make a few valid notes
  • Get distracted on planning a detailed map of the town/world in your book
  • Lose temper at changing minor character’s surname
  • Yawn once, decide it’s bedtime
  • Turn computer off and go to bed
  • Have best idea ever in bed – decide to get up at 5am to start anew with refreshed vigour
  • Wake up at 8 and realise it’s a work day

Procrastination is a vixen I remember well from, I guess, every aspect of my little life. With essay deadlines looming, I could always find something to keep myself entertained. But when it’s something I love and very much want to dedicate my time to, like my writing, I still find I can skive off. Sometimes it is legitimate – still need to eat, right? I’ve been writing this post for about a week now, too.

In all seriousness, I’m trying to follow this process for editing:

  • Split my screen into 2 documents, with the draft on the left and a document for notes on the right;
  • Read through the draft and any edit, thought or issue that comes to mind can be noted down;
  • Finish the read through, and start making the changes to a new version of the document.
  • I will also keep a running log of over-arcing problems or changes that will have effects throughout the narrative.

At the moment I’m here, there and everywhere, often without my laptop (hence why this post has taken so long to write), so I can’t start in earnest until things are back to normal. Then I think I will try to dedicate a chunk of time each day to editing. It’s time to get serious again!

How do you edit? Do you get distracted too – if so, how do you keep on track? Let me know in the comments!

May Goodreads Challenge – The Magus

For May I chose The Magus to read from my remaining books. I’ve read John Fowles before – The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books so I had high hopes about The Magus.

It is a big book – not just in length but in content. The blurb talks about our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, being held by a master trickster – but make no mistake, the master trickster in residence here is Fowles himself.

It took me a long time to read it – not because it was uninteresting or particularly hard, but because it just is a very big book. That being said, the last 200 pages roared by as the plot kicked it up about four gears.

Nicholas Urfe, as a typical rudderless middle-class graduate of the post-war era, finds himself teaching English in a Greek school for boys on a remote, isolated island. It follows nicely from Romance of the Forest with a travel literature edge. Fowles captures Greece wonderfully – his prose reminded me of holidays to Crete and Lesvos and brought back lovely memories. I also liked the TEFL aspect, especially so as Nicholas had similar feelings of unfulfilment regarding teaching that I had experienced in my short tenure.

The book is best thought of as London and England bracketing either side of the fat Grecian middle section. Nicholas flees a girlfriend, disappointment in his own failings and general disillusionment to an island that then reflects these three things again back at him. The master trickster he meets is a strange patriarch, Conchis, who Fowles paints expertly as a man who shifts in all but shape. There are powerful moments detailing Conchis’s life, in particular the recollection of his days serving on the front in WWI, but in typical Fowles style (a la French Lieutenant’s Woman) the rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. As a result, the story is lush, deceptive, and twists and turns at every page.

I enjoyed it, though it was strange, and at times felt a little laboured. (I am in the middle of my own editing so I’m seeing everything bloated and over-egged so I might just be projecting outwards.) As a mystery it was good to figure bits out, though sometimes the cycles of mystery were so dense it was hard to decide what the actual point of it all was. It felt a little too high-brow for me at times: a lot about psychology and psychiatry, which went over my head, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t (though I guess that was purposeful). Nicholas, our narrator, also did my head in from time to time. He was full of his own self-importance, but then again, all his flaws got called out on. This is a story about how our own selfishness and egocentric behaviour can drastically affect those around us – and Nicholas is forced to confront his own shortcomings. I’m not sure if he will really learn from his mistakes, but over the course of the novel he comes a step closer to comprehending that he is not the only player on the stage.

The ending was wholly ambiguous and I made my own conclusion, based on a Disney-fuelled happily ever after.

It is very much a sort of book that will haunt you, and it also makes you not trust anybody or anything they ever say, which is very helpful in everyday life.

My next book is The Meaning of Night, a contemporary Victorian crime thriller, which Maura is cuddling up to below.