Wisteria Hysteria

The smell of wisteria always reminds me of childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ house, where a huge climber all but covered one side of the house. Now that we live in the house, every time I walk past the plant in full bloom, I always think of my Nana and Grandad, sadly no longer with us.

It is a tremendous plant and possibly in need of a little pruning, though unless something drastic happens to it, I will never have it cut down. It is a dominant feature of the house, providing beautiful fragrance and dramatic colour, and is something so intrinsically entwined with the nature of this house.

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I am going to try to take cuttings from her, as she’s such a glory. There is a trellis attached to the other side of the window, where I believe there was once a clematis, though the bad weather has probably done for that. I do like clematis so I’d like to get a new one to replace it.

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May madness

It’s nearly the end of May already – time has just flown by. After the terrible weather in March and April, we’ve had a long spate of warmth and dryness – to the point where the ground is rock solid and all our silage grasses are crying out for a good rain shower. It’s been good for more controlled growing – namely my seedlings in pots and trays. I’ve had some problems and some poor doers, but I’ve had some real success stories (so far, anyway).

Tomatoes have done very well this year. I’ve always found tomatoes are very easy to germinate, as I’m sure most people do. This year I’ve grown three varieties: Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Alicante. I started them all in the heated propagator, some in January and some in March, and have potted them all on. The plants from January’s sowings are monsters now. I cleaned out the greenhouse and have popped a couple of plants in there to grow. The rest I’m going to take to the Plant Stall on Saturday.

Cucumbers have been sown in two batches. I sowed six lots and four germinated. As they always sell well at the Stall, I have sown a successive lot though so far no germination, but it’s only been a couple of days. I used La Diva from Sarah Raven.

Squashes and Courgettes have seen me with a slight problem, in that they have germinated at the same time and there are no labels and somehow they’ve all gotten muddled up. Twitter might have to help me here!

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Squash or courgette? Who knows?

I also seem to have a bit of a floppy stem syndrome going on with some of them. I know they are meant to spread length-ways but I don’t remember ever having such floppy plants. Maybe they’re a little shy?! My squashes are from Sarah Raven and Courgette from Dobies (check).

In the raised beds, I sowed five lots of brassicas – cauliflower (All the Year Round), broccoli (Calabrese), romanescobrussel sprouts (Brigitte) and sprouting broccoli. Some of these were new seeds – sprouts and the cauliflower – but others were old seeds, particularly the romanesco which I found unopened in my seed box. They have all germinated, some better than others. I planted them in the bed into a compost mulch mixed with a generous helping of growmore, and as last year Mum had an issue with cabbage root fly, we are going to mesh them and hopefully monitor very closely.

I have put a lot of salad leaves in, as this time of year we eat a lot of salads, and I’m usually left a bit wanting by the selection in the supermarket. I’ve sown rocket, mixed leaves and red mustard, which have all germinated, and further sowings of All the Year Round and Edox lettucesmizuna and watercress. I sowed lambs lettuce and Cos lettuce from old seed packets and nothing came. I do like lambs lettuce so I might have to get a packet. I’m excited about the Edox variety which I got from the Dobies catalogue.

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Hello seedlings!

We’ve also sown two lots of spring onions as well as the classic super-fast growing radish.

In the next bed, I’ve tried to be crafty to fend off the evil carrot root fly, and have sown carrot (Autumn King) interspersed with onion (an onion-shallot mix from Dobies called zebrune), plus some parsnip (Hollow Crown – I couldn’t resist the name, though it is an old packet so we shall see if anything happens) and beetroot. I would quite like to pickle my own beetroot, and have a go at pickling carrot as well. When we’re in Germany they give us the nicest pickled carrot mix with our salad and it’s so yummy, but I can never find it in the Rewe supermarket so it must be a homemade mix.

We have lots of potatoes in bags. I use loads of potatoes and my idea is to try and grow ourselves what I buy the most of in the shops. I’ve had such bad experiences with potatoes from both the Lidl and Morrisons. I have thought about buying a great big bag from outside farms, but I might as well just grow my own.

Flowers-wise, there’s so much going on, I haven’t a clue where to begin, or even if things are going right. My lobelia, pansies and petunia all did really well then have come to a stop. Similarly I potted up my gaura and they’ve grown well then have flopped. I have one dahlia coming which is super exciting, and I potted up the other two only recently so fingers crossed they will come. I have verbascum coming, which I have just potted on, plus impatiens, nasturtium and of course loads of sweet peas. I’m wondering whether my little plants need a week in the greenhouse where it’s a little hotter to try and spur them on a bit.

I’ve sown, a bit late of course, some dichondra and begonia and they’re sat on a sunny windowsill in a propagator. My alstroemeria did nothing, very disappointing but I know they are very tricky to start from seed. In the garden of my old house I found a new plant that had obviously grown itself from a rhizome so that’s made up for the seed-related problems, plus when I was digging up my border I discovered a variegated one growing merrily away in amongst all the weeds. I had a poor do with the fuchsia – one very sickly-looking seedling out of two attempts, but I found a plant in the old house with lots of new shoots on it, so that’s been potted up and seems to be happy.

Soon it will be hanging basket time! I have four brackets to put up around the house, which means I need to get another two baskets. Hanging basket time is one of my favourite times in the garden, and I would like to make a few to sell, as I do think I make pretty good baskets.

How is your garden coming along in the May madness? Let me know in the comments!

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!

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!

Kipling photobomb

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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