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!

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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!

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?

April’s Goodreads Challenge – The Romance of the Forest

I was worried I might have to start this post reporting my failure to uphold my resolution. (Instead I need to start it with an apology that it’s so late, and a disclosure saying that I did in fact finish the book in April, and I wrote this post a week ago, but I’ve only just got round to posting it!) The Romance of the Forest proved a hard book to read. I could harp on about all the other things going on that have been taking up my time and attention, and granted they all exist, but in all honesty, I just really struggled with this book. But I’m happy to say I finished it, at about quarter to eleven last night, so just in time hurrah!

An eighteenth-century Gothic novel that has sat on my shelves for long enough, I had tried to read it before and stalled on the first page. I’m pleased I persevered, and I have enjoyed it (at times). The problem with eighteenth and nineteenth century writing – that I’ve found, anyway – isn’t in the old-fashioned style they use, the long sentences, the incomprehensible sentence structure, the wayward subjects or even subject matter now quite alien to a modern reader. I get all that and like all that. The problem is I am a fast reader. My imagination leaps beyond the words that I’m reading so when I’m in a story that has very dense writing, including join-the-dots descriptions and misleading sentence starters that begin somewhere and then randomly out of nowhere go off on a tangent, I struggle with it. I probably need to sit down with my imagination and tell it to behave. Not that it’ll listen, and not that I’d want it to anyway.

So The Romance of the Forest is a book that moves too fast and too slow all at once. Confusing? Yes. At least the majority of the characters have different names, right? Well, up until the last few chapters and then we had two characters with the same title and it was all a bit of a blur. The main character is Adeline, and I think the reason I didn’t like her is because I saw much too much of myself in her. She’s a melodramatic, melancholy slip of a thing, prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing, and she just annoyed me a little too much. The storyline starts with a mystery, then more mysteries come up and unless I totally just didn’t pay attention, the mysteries are all resolved at the end. Hurrah! Adeline is an orphan, essentially, and is placed under the care of the La Motte family, who are themselves fleeing debtors. Together they take refuge in a spooky abbey, where they find all these mysterious objects, some of which suggest a sinister past to the abbey. Then the abbey’s real owner appears and makes their lives very difficult.

There are some serious plot twists in this book. A lot of the twists happen in about the last 50 pages, and some twists are fun little false twists too, which do work quite well to keep you guessing. Part of the book’s style is the way Radcliffe starts by introducing a sinister motif, or a thrilling moment, and then dissolving it – spoiler alert: for example, Adeline sees a mysterious man in the woods and is afraid, but he turns out to be a nice chap indeed.

Radcliffe was a travel writing buff and so her own writing is rich with descriptions of exotic places that she herself may not have made it to. I must admit I did skim through a few of the longer passages waxing about the beauty of this French town or this lake with its acacias.

I thought I would enjoy this a bit more than I did. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, which is an OK rating on the Goodreads scale. It just was a bit of a slog, unfortunately.

For May I’m jumping into The Magus by John Fowles. Now Fowles wrote one of my favourite books ever, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so let’s see if this one can live up to my high expectations. The blurb suggests it should be right up my street. I am feeling some The Name of the Rose vibes with it, so we shall see!

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The Magus, by John Fowles: On a remote Greek Island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.

The Liebster Award

I was very kindly nominated for the Liebster Award by the very lovely ohevie, see the original post here!  Now I’ve heard about Liebster before but only because I’ve seen the logo on other blogs, and I always thought there was no chance I’d ever be nominated for an award! We were on our way back from picking up two half-ton bags of barley for the cattle when I got the notification, so safe to say I was very pleased! Now it has been months and months since I was nominated, but I’ve only been able to do a little bit at a time. But now I’m done!
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Don’t give up the daydream

You’ve heard the old saying. Somebody does something stupid, or funny, or badly, and you go, “Don’t give up the day job”. And usually it’s comic effect – haha, we all laugh, how funny, and go about our merry way. Because silly Sandra never really planned on being a professional juggler, or an impressionist, or whatever. She’s quite happy doing whatever it is she’s doing.

But I’m here as the advocate of daydreams – and their bigger, badder cousin, The Dream. Because I have A Dream (a song to sing…) and I’m sure as hell not giving up on it.

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April’s Goodreads Challenge: Starting Line

I get to come into April with a bit of a clean slate. Alongside my allotted monthly books I’ve been catching up with Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool series, in anticipation for book 3 coming out soon. I finished the second book last month so have a relatively low on-the-go pile.

While waiting about in the lambing shed I started re-reading a book I’ve attempted many times – Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, Book One of the Dark Tower series. I’ve read lots of Stephen Kings over my time, including what is probably one of the scariest books ever, It. Have you seen the trailer for the new film coming out this year? It looks absolutely terrifying. I mean, clowns, hello! The scariest things out there. When I have kids we are so not having clowns at kids’ parties. And Pennywise isn’t even the big bad in It – he’s just a facet, a mouthpiece.
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My Goodreads Challenge 2017 – March

This month I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I chose it for my Challenge because I had bought it to read for the PGCE I never finished (like most things in my life) and everybody was raving about it. It’s sat languishing on my bookshelf for long enough.

This is one of those books that everyone raves about, but when it gets down to it, they’ve not read the book, but heard rave reviews about the stage adaptation. Their granny’s mate or little brother’s English class went to see it and it changed their lives.

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The Raised Bed Diaries 2017

When I first started this blog, it was about two things: Dickie, my little blue Subaru, and gardening. I was never much into gardening when I was young – always much more interested in reading and writing and that sort of thing. But when we moved to the farm, I decided I wanted to try my hand at vegetable growing. So my dad made me a pair of raised beds out of old railway sleepers and got me a little greenhouse that every time a storm struck, all the glass blew out of. True to my bookworm roots I bought loads of books on veg growing and started out. The first year was quite successful, the second year somewhat so, and then the third year I had moved into my house and my weekends seemed to get filled up doing other things. Mum kept the beds going, but I hadn’t manured either of them since the beginning and our land is sandy, hungry land that doesn’t do much on its own.

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World Book Day

It was World Book Day and if I was dressing up as someone out of literature I think I would have to be the Yorkshire Shepherdess, what with all the farming and such. We were up at the farm feeding up and tidying up and went to pick up a new calf, bringing our total to 7 (including the one with her mother). Only 3 are on milk so that’s not too bad. Where the calves are there is no running water so I have to lug a great drum of hot water about and it’s no easy task. My arms ache, especially when I can’t open the gate because the pin is too stiff for me, I can’t lift said drum over it because I’m too short, so instead I wedge it through the biggest gap in the fence I can find. It’s an ordeal, but looking after calves is my favourite bit so far so I don’t mind.

I think the Yorkshire Shepherdess is a fine person to look up to, and she’s certainly more relevant to World Book Day than the kid my mum saw in a Chelsea kit. The Chelsea Annual? Mmm, I think that’s pushing it a bit. Whenever I’m up at the farm and it’s chucking it down or I’m tired or struggling (read most days), I think to myself what would the Yorkshire Shepherdess do, and I find a reserve of strength (aka desperation) and I get on with it. I’m usually told off later for doing something wrong but I’m sure there are worse things that could happen.

But we all know farming isn’t my big interest. Oh, no. The big thing is the writing thing.

I have 3 weeks to finish my first book in my self-imposed deadline, in time for the How to Get Published conference at the York Literature Festival. I have about 12-15 chapters left to write, depending on how fast I can write/how ruthless I can be. Considering I’ve just written Chapter Twenty-Seven, which in my previous draft corresponded to Chapter Forty-Five, I don’t think I’ve done too bad in my cutting frenzy. It’s hard to fit writing in alongside everything else there is to do: the farm, feed calves, keep the house clean, do washing, rush about getting clothes in when it rains, cook tea, endless reams of washing up, panic about money and how I’m going to pay bills. I’m also going to be starting to work again come April, and before that there’s lambing to worry about. I stuck to my 500 words a day goal, but I think I might have to up it to at least 1500 a day, just so I can get some text down.

Part of developing as a writer is of course being a reader. I love reading – always have done, always will do. I studied Literature at uni at undergraduate and postgrad levels, have filled three houses up with books. As an only child, reading was a way to occupy myself when there was nobody about to play with (until I got a Gameboy, and then catching Pokemon was so much more exciting, but even then, I think I enjoyed reading the strategy guide more than playing the actual game). Reading seemed to naturally lead to writing. When I didn’t have my own stories and characters in my head, I rewrote existing stories, an exercise that helped me in turn appreciate story arcs, purpose and intent.

Being currently a frugal writer on a strict budget, there’s no space for book buying. Saying that, I did go to the second hand bookshop in Pickering a few weeks ago and buy two of Terry Brooks’s Shannara books (can anyone tell me if Book 1 is essential, as I’ve heard it’s vastly different to the subsequent two?). As part of my Goodreads Challenge I’m trying to read books I already have. In my early twenties, while most girls frittered their money away on posh makeup and going out dresses and holidays here, there and everywhere, little old me spent hers on books, music and car insurance. Hence why I can fill three houses with books and CDs and part a car at each house. Not that Millie the Puma can move at the moment.

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I know some people see reading as a waste of time, but the same could be said for watching TV, movies, sitting on Facebook. I use reading in a similar way that I write: for a moment, an evening, half an hour in the bath, I can completely forget my own silly little life and petty problems, and immerse myself in other peoples’ lives. Stories touch us in different ways and there are some books that I feel have changed my life, or my viewpoint, or have opened my eyes – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, If This is a Man by Primo Levi, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, plus countless others. I’ve read His Dark Materials at so many different points in my life and each time it speaks to me in a different way, a huge accomplishment for what is often simply categorised as a children’s book.

Also, so excited about Philip Pullman’s next series about Lyra!

When I have a child, alongside that child running around outside, playing and learning, understanding the importance of time, and money, and kindness, and gratitude, I will spend time reading with them. I have my mother’s set of Narnia books that she had as a girl and those will go to this as yet imaginary child. And of course if writing is to be (as I hope) my occupation, I’d like my child to understand the worth of that, and the importance of imagination, even if they have no desire to write (which is OK too).

So books are important, yay? I have big plans to make a study/library in Grandad’s house, and that will be my writing cave, where behind closed doors, the magic will (hopefully) happen.

Katy