Not all stories are mine to tell …..

…. and so all I can say is that a few weeks ago life dealt me a blow that I thought I might never recover from.


I did, and my little family is still here, but since then events seem to be conspiring against me.

A leaky porch, absent colleagues, a collapsing curtain rail ….

Nothing that can’t be dealt with, but why did it all have to happen right now?!

I have started reading again, I have started writing again.

E.H Young Day will be happening next week.

But regaining my balance – adjusting to the new ‘normal’ – may take a little longer ….

This Weekend I Have Been …

… heading across the road to the beach with Briar. Dog ban notices have gone up on the far end of the promenade but not on our stretch, and so we are hoping she – and the other dogs we meet down there – are all legal this year.

… wonderfully engaged by an exploration of the themes explored in Lynn Knight’s ‘The Button Box.’ Women’s lives, the clothes they wear, social history and, of course, buttons. A talk, a conversation, and more questions thrown into the air than there could ever be time to answer. There was so much to think about it, and I’m eager to get back to the book that I’ve been dipping into for a while.

… learning so much about art and creativity in Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century from Charlotte Hobson, author of ‘The Vanishing Futurist.’ It was clear that she knew and loved her subject, she showed a range of extraordinary images, and I left eager to read and learn more.

… taken to Battery Rocks by Briar. I hadn’t taken there for ages, not wanting to push her too much now she’s not as young as she was, but when we went across the road she turned left instead of heading down to the beach and made it clear where she wanted to go. She had no trouble with the rocks, she happily chased her tennis balls across the beach, retrieved them from the sea, and did a good bit of swimming.

… having a lovely time at the Stanhope Forbes exhibition at Penlee House. I saw paintings I loved in ‘real life’ for the first time, I learned more about the artist, and I realised there was much more to his work than I had realised. This really needs a post of its own so that I can share paintings and thoughts.

… walking in the park with Briar; just to very things up a bit.

… listening to romantic novelist Jean Burnett explaining how her reading inspired her to travel, how her subsequent memoir led to her being given the journals of a Cornish lady who had travelled to the Himalayas in the 19th century. That led to her editing the journals for publication; and though I have reservations about her work I am interested to look at the book, and I was glad to be reminded that I have a good number of Virago Travellers to read.

… captivated by  author and indigo expert Jenny Balfour Paul telling the story of forgotten adventurer Thomas Machell, whose illustrated journals she discovered in the British Library. Her book – ‘Deeper than Indigo’ – brings together his story, her uncovering of that story, and her travels to the places he visited. I had to buy a copy, and I have to say that it looks extraordinary.

… taking Briar out of town to visit Madron Well and run in the surrounding fields. There are lots of lovely places to take her around town, but she has always liked a ride in the car and a visit to somewhere she doesn’t get to go to quite so often.

… making slow but steady progress reading ‘War and Peace’ and knitting ‘Franziska.’

… realising it’s time I got back to writing about the books I’ve been reading.

It’s wonderful what you can do in when you take a couple of days off work to extend the weekend.

Thank you Penzance Literary Festival, thank you Penlee House – and thank you Briar!

War and Peace: The Before We Begin Questions

I’ve been wanting to read ‘War and Peace’ ever since I finished ‘Anna Karenina’ and I think that the time has come.

The ‘War and Peace’ read-along at Reading in Bed begins in July

Here are my thoughts about the ‘before we begin’ type questions:

Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

I looked at this read-along – a chapter a day for the whole year – back in January. The idea was lovely but I realised quite early on that the pacing too slow for me and I drifted away.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I have two and I’m really not sure which one I’m going to read.

On one hand I have the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in a lovely old Macmillan edition, with maps for endpapers and headings at the top of each page.

When I auditioned translations of ‘Anna Karenina’ theirs was my favourite by far, I love that they knew Tolstoy, and what I’ve read of their translation of ‘War and Peace’ feels right.

On the other hand I have the Anthony Briggs translation in a recent Penguin edition.


It’s wonderfully readable, I’d be less worried about wear and tear with a newer, more replaceable edition, I like what he has to say is his translator’s note. But it feels a little less Russian, a little less of the period than the Maudes.

I’m going to read a little more of each translation, and then I’ll make a decision and stick to it.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I watched the most recent BBC adaptation. That’s given me an idea of the characters and the story arc, but I know that there is going to be much more to the book.

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I don’t want to over-think this, so I’ve just read the introductory material and the translator’s notes from my two edition.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I hope to enjoy spending time with the characters in their world. And to be able to say that I’ve read it!

What are you intimidated by?

Just the sheer scale of the thing.

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts?

I have no plans to – the ‘war’ parts are a large and significant part of the book.

I’ve come across the Napoleonic War in books before, I’m interested in seeing it from a different perspective. So I have no plans to skip it though I suspect that – as when I read ‘Vanity Fair’ – I might be wishing that Jonathan Strange might appear to help move things along ….

And that’s it!

Any advice would, as always, be gratefully received!

A Thank You and a Eulogy

I have been so moved by the many kind and thoughtful people who have left comments and messages since I wrote a few words about the death of my mother.

It means more than I can ever express in words.

Thank you.

I will pick up the threads here soon, but today I am simply going to share the eulogy that I wrote for my mother’s funeral last Friday and thank all of her friends who made it a lovely service of thanksgiving for her life.

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Beth first came to the promenade when she was four-years old. James and Daisy adopted her and brought her to a lovely home with two big brothers, Geoff and Ken.

That was when she first came to St Mary’s, walking up from the promenade with her mum.

She told me that being adopted was the best thing that could have happened to her. In later life, when she was curious to know a little more about her background, she went through the necessary steps to see her original birth certificate and find out a little more about her twin brother who died in infancy, but she always stated quite clearly that the couple who adopted her were her real parents, that she was lucky that she chose her, and that she wished people spoke more about the joy that adoption could bring.

Beth grew into a bright and outgoing girl. I remember her speaking of Geoff teaching her to ride a bike; of looking through an atlas to find a good name for her dog, an Afghan hound; of going to the Jubilee Pool and to Madron Carn with her friends, Anne and Jenny, who lived a few doors away …

Her school report – which I found a while ago – said that she would do very well if she talked a little less and listened a little more!

She did do very well. She was educated at the Girls’ Grammar School, where she became Head Girl, and then she went to Hockerill Teacher Training College.

Beth taught for nearly forty years in Penzance – at St. Mary’s School, at the Girls’ Grammar School, at the Humphry Day Comprehensive, and finally at the Bolitho School. She always said, quite simply, that she loved teaching because she liked kids.

She always loved meeting former pupils in town and hearing what they were doing.

I couldn’t walk more than a few steps through town with her without bumping into someone she had to stop and chat with. An old neighbour, a childhood friend, someone from church, a teaching colleague, another former pupil …

She always was what she would call a ‘people person.’ Even towards the end of her life she took an interest in her carers, asking what they were going to do after work, admiring a new top or a nice pair of earrings, smiling and saying thank you.

I also remember her, more than once, reaching out to take the hand of an anxious or upset lady in the chair next to hers.

She was always sociable, but she was home-loving too. She recalled sitting upstairs with her mother watching the sea and people walking on the promenade; and in later life, when she moved to another house just a few doors away from her childhood home, she would often sit upstairs in her bay window, watching  the world go by and waving to friends and neighbours.

Beth married Neill – the brother of her friend Diane. They were very  well matched and they were very happy together.

They had two children – Jane and Nicky.

Jane was very quiet, like her dad; and Nicky was very sociable, like his mum.

Nicky had Down’s Syndrome, and caring for him and making the right decisions became the focus of Beth’s life. She tried to keep a balance, doing the right thing for the whole family of four, carrying on teaching; but the son who was so like her was always her special boy.

She was thrilled when Father Jim, after consulting with the bishop, suggested that a grown-up Nicky be confirmed at St Mary’s; because, though he didn’t have the understanding some might expect,  he had his own full understanding of his God. The day of Nicky’s confirmation was a wonderful day; one of many days that Beth said was the best day of her life.

She also said that about the day she was adopted, the day she got married, the day her daughter was born, the day she moved back to the promenade ….

Of course there were sad days too. She found her father dead when she was just seven years-old; and she would lose first Neill  and then Nicky.

The day Nicky died was her saddest day; he had been at the centre of her life when she was a widow and her daughter was many miles away.

She still found joys in life. She went out and about with friends; she moved back to the promenade that she loved, that she would think of as ‘home’ to the very end of her life; she enjoyed holidays is warmer climes with a group of retired teachers; she loved her border terriers, Pip who arrived not long after she retired and Briar who would follow in her paw-prints; and she was delighted when Jane moved back to Cornwall …

But the people who had said that Beth would never be the same again were probably right.

She became physically and mentally frail, but she was very much herself until her last few weeks.

She left this life quietly and peacefully, with her daughter at her bedside.

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The Saddest Day


Just after sunset on Saturday, my mother left this life.

Her decline had been long and slow, but the final chapter of her life was very short. It was just before Easter that she ceased to recognise the people around her – even her daughter and her beloved dog – and so I have to say that it is a blessing that she went quickly and so very peacefully that I wasn’t quite sure that she had gone.

I’m working through all of the many things that have to be done, but I am shattered.

I was so lucky to have a wonderful mother and father, and a lovely brother, and now they are all gone.

I had so many shared memories that are mine alone now.

I know that I have to come to terms with this, I know that I am lucky to have The Man of the House and my lovely Briar, but it’s going to take time.

I just don’t have any words right now ….

Has a Visit to the Library Ever Made You Think of People You’ve Never Met?

That’s what happened to me today.

It was only a quick visit, because we had a late start and lots of other things today, but I went into the art collection to look for a specific book, I had a quick look at the literary classics,  and of course I walked around the fiction shelves.
this is it

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On the way out of the art collection the name of Alberto Manguel caught my eye, because Karen had written about his A Reading Diary very recently indeed.

“A Reader’s Diary” is described on its cover as “a love letter written to reading” and in a sense it is. However, it’s so much more than that; ranging over time back to Manguel’s childhood, and covering parts of his life and his experiences, it has a wider outlook on how things have changed during his lifetime. But it also makes the reader really stop and think about what great literature is; how it speaks to us over the centuries; and how books and writing are one of mankind’s greatest creations.”

The book I saw was Reading Pictures : What We Think About When We Look at Art. I picked it up and it did look interested, but not the book I have the time and attention for right now.

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The classics shelves don’t change much and but I saw a new book today, and when I saw it I thought Caroline! I remembered that she had written about Dorothy B Hughes not so very long ago.

“I love nothing as much as atmospherical crime novels and this one might be one of the greatest in this regard. Set in L.A., it really brings the city to life and makes great use of the landscape and weather conditions. I thought that fog and mist were particular to San Francisco but reading this, I have to assume that the L.A. area (at the time?) was constantly foggy. Reading how this lonely, deranged and driven killer hunts for his prey in the fog made for great reading.”

She wrote about In a Lonely Place and the book I found was The Blackbirder, which looks rather different but just as interesting.

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I went to look for books by Maurice Druon, because I’ve been meaning to read his books for a while and I was reminded when Helen wrote about The Royal Succession – the fourth volume of his ‘Accursed Kings’ series.

” As The Royal Succession opens in the year 1316, Louis is dead, leaving no clear heir to the throne. There is some doubt over the parentage of Jeanne, his five-year-old daughter from his first marriage, so all eyes are on Queen Clémence, his pregnant second wife. While France looks forward to the birth of Clémence’s child, a regent is needed …..”

I’d thought that I had the first book, but when I went to look for it I realised that I hadn’t bought a copy because I’d checked the library catalogue and found that the whole series in stock. I wanted The Iron King – the first book in the series – and there it was on the shelf. It’s still there, because this week’s reading hours were already fully booked.

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Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck is one of those book I’ve been thinking about bringing home for a while. It was on the shelf of new and interesting books today. I’d read Lady Fancifull‘s thoughts about her new second novel only last night.

“As in Wolf Winter, Ekback’s strengths are much in evidence – setting, complex and believable individual psychology and group psychology, and events taking place in the lives of individuals in a wider context. Strong characterisation, and a generally hypnotic, absorbing narrative. Character development, unpredictability, and a powerful sense of ancient, inexplicable forces. The sense of time and place are strong. Unfortunately, as with Wolf Winter, what was heading for sure five star all through fell off target for me in roughly the last 40 pages.”

So now I have two books on my ‘maybe someday’ list.

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All of that in one very brief visit – I didn’t even venture into the room where history and biography live – I just picked up the copy of  The Jewel by Catherine Czerkawska that I had ordered from the reservations shelf, scanned my books, and set out to do other things.

Walking Through the History of Women’s Writing

I left my Classics Club list behind when I left my old home and moved to this one. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the whole idea, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to read classics, it was just that I needed to step away for a while, so that I could work out what was important to me and what wasn’t.

Guy Cambier 1923-2008It wasn’t long before I missed the community – especially when I had to stand on the sidelines for the last spin – and I found that I was reading the books on my list much more than I had when I was in that old home, and I found myself looking back, to tick books off the list and to remind myself.

I was so tempted to pick up the threads.

And then along came the Women’s Classic Literature Event. It calls for what I most love to read – what I most want to go on reading – and of course I couldn’t possibly resist it.

You can choose any genre you like: Gothics, sensation fiction, sentimental novels, children’s classics, letters, journals, essays, short stories, female writers from the American South, Irish classics by women, African classics by women, Australian classics by women, poetry, plays. You can do all Persephone titles, all Virago, all forgotten nineteenth century letter-writers, all journals, all novels, all essays, all feminist works — or a mix. You could do a deep exploration of a single author’s work, or pick a couple authors whose works you’d like to compare and contrast. You could set up your own dueling authors: read three by one author, and three by the other, and see who comes out on top. Really, you can get as creative as you want with this event. If the title was penned by a female and written or published before 1960, it counts.

I knew though that I had to do things a little differently. Working from a set list doesn’t work for me, and so my list has to be fluid. That’s why I’m starting with a list of books that I might read, to give me ideas; but my focus is on building a list of classics that I have read and want to celebrate. I may lose books that don’t work for me; and I may add books that I forgot or books that I discover along the way.

I hope that isn’t stretching the rules too much.

My list is here.

I’ve been reading classics almost as long as I’ve been reading grown-up books. I started with the Brontes and Jane Austen; then I discovered Edith Wharton; I picked up a Virago Modern Classic in the library and it was the start of a wonderful voyage of discovery; Virago led me to Persephone and to other interesting presses; Honno and Victorian Secrets are particular favourites now; and I’ve leaned to always pick up old books with interesting titles and intriguing author names.

I am very aware that there are authors I’ve been wary of and really want to understand better. The names in my mind are Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson.

There are also authors I want to revisit; some because it’s a long time since I read them and their books have faded a little in my memory; and some because I think I will see them differently with a little more accumulated age and experience.

And the more I read, the more I discover that I want to read. There are intriguing titles by women being reissues, there are fine women writers who are still out of print, and I know that there are others still to be found.


I’ve made another list of books for next year. They may not be books that I’m saying should be part of the canon; but I believe that they are books that have stood the test of time and speak well for their times and for women’s history.

  • The Story of Lily Dawson by Catherine Crowe (1847)
  • The Semi-attached Couple and the Semi-detached House by Emily Eden (1859)
  • The Village on the Cliff by Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1867)
  • A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell (1883)
  • The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge (1891)
  • Grania by Emily Lawless (1892)
  • A Superfluous Woman by Emma Brooke (1894)
  • Marcella by Mrs Humphrey Ward (1894)
  • Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater (1908)
  • A Pin to See the Peepshow by F Tennyson Jesse (1923)
  • The Battle to the Weak by Hilda Vaughan (1925)
  • William by E H Young (1925)
  • The Knight of Cheerful Countenance by Molly Keane (1926)
  • The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray (1926)
  • Broome Stages by Clemence Dane (1931)
  • Saraband by Eliot Bliss (1931)
  • Peking Picnic by Ann Bridge (1932)
  • Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge (1933)
  • Dew on the Grass by Eilunned Lewis (1934)
  • The Phoenix’s Nest by Elizabeth Jenkins (1936)
  • Pray for the Wanderer by Kate O’Brien (1938)
  • The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle (1941)
  • Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (1944)
  • My Bird Sings by Oriel Malet (1946)
  • The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison (1947)
  • The Gentlewoman by Laura Talbot (1952)
  • Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (1954)
  • Ask Me No More by Pamela Frankau (1958)
  • Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer (1958)

It’s not a set reading list, but a list to remind me how many interesting possibilities there are. They are all either on my shelves or within easy reach.

Walking through the history of women’s writing ….

10% Report: 100 Years of Books


I’m so pleased that I picked up my 100 Years of Books project and began again; and that I brought it with me when I moved to this new home on the internet.

I’ve added read and written about ten more books that filled up ten more years since my last update; and so I need to stop and consider how things are going, and present those ten books.

Now that I’m half way through this project, most of the easy years have been filled, but I’m enjoying focusing on particular years that need a book, and digging up books to fit difficult years.

The 19th century years are trickier to full than the 20th century years, but I’m discovering that’s no bad thing. It’s leading me to more works in translation, and to more obscure but very interesting authors. And it’s throwing up some lovely juxtapositions – like Anna Karenina sitting next to a young American telegraph operator ….

I’m pleased that the majority of my latest ten books are from the 19th century; and that I still have a nice selection of books I can read to fill in some of the gaps around them.

I’m beginning to think that I really can do this, and that I won’t have to read any ‘duty books’ along the way.

And that the way to enjoy the project is to take my time; to focus on it when I want to and to put it to one side when I want to read other things.

And so to my latest ten books – here they are:

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1856 – The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton by George Eliot

I loved the voice of the author from the start; she was an omniscient narrator, talking to her reader and wandering wherever she chose to illuminate the people, the places, the events, that she was choosing to share. It reminded me a little of Trollope, but her voice was distinctive and it was full of warmth and intelligence, and her love of writing and everything she wrote about shone.

1864 – Henry Dunbar by Mary Elizabeth Brandon

Two men set off to welcome Henry Dunbar. One who was sent by the bank and one who was determined to call him to account for the downward spiral that his life had taken.

Only one of those two men would meet Henry Dunbar.

Only one of the three would return to London; much later than he had been expected, and not quite freed from his entanglement in a criminal investigation that had baffled police.

1869 – Letters from my Windmill by Alphonse Daudet

This is a book with the power to transport you to 19th century southern France; because Daudet had the ability to make the world around him come alive in his pages. His descriptions of the environment and his surroundings were beautifully rendered; his observations of the people he met and the people he was told about were clear and astute; and I always felt that he was pleased to be in his windmill, writing his sketches to send back to Paris.

1875 – The Usurper by Judith Gautier

I saw echoes of other stories in this one; some older stories and myths and some literature from closer to the authors own era. And though the setting is seventeenth century Japan there is much in her story that is timeless and universal. This is a very human story; a little predictable in places but well thought out and constructed.

1881 – Policy and Passion by Rosa Praed

Honoria was the Premier’s elder daughter, and she was poised between childhood and womanhood. She was beautiful, she was headstrong, and she lacked a mother to guide her. She turned away an a very eligible suitor, a rising politician loyal to her father, when she was charmed by Hardress Barrington, a visiting English aristocrat. She didn’t know that he would never contemplate marrying the colonial daughter of a self-made man, and that he had it in mind to set her up as his mistress in an establishment of her own. She would find out …..

1888 – The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy

Whenever I find four sisters in a novel I’m inclined to draw parallels with Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. In the case of the Lorrimer sisters I saw parallels but I also saw significant points of difference; and I appreciated a nice touch late in the novel that suggested that Amy Levy was acknowledging the influence of the older author.

1904 – The Masquerader – or John Chilcote M. P. – by Katherine Cecil Thurston

This particular story opens on a foggy night in London. Two men nearly collide. When they speak they both notice that they sound alike, and when they see each other each man thinks that they might be looking in a mirror. They really are doppelgangers. As they talk they find that their circumstances are very different. …. a plan – an outrageous plan – began to take shape in Chilcote’s mind ….

1929 – Modesta by G B Stern

Modesta was an Italian peasant girl who dreamed of being an English lady. Her father was a landlord and so she was able to spend time talking to his guests, offering them charm and flattery, subtly pointing out the differences between their situation and hers; admiring their lovely things, especially the dresses, the likes of which she could only dream about; arranging  the flowers and make everything nice for them. She was always so, so busy; but she always managed to take the nice jobs and to leave the not-so-nice jobs for her sisters!

She was a minx, but I just had to love her.

1936 – Deborah by Esther Kreitman

When I picked this book up I knew nothing of the title or the author; I took it on trust, to add to my collection, because it was a green Virago Modern Classic.

“All the world has heard of the great Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and of his brother Israel Joshua. Few have heard of their sister Hinde Esther who lived in obscurity and also wrote novels.”

1943 – Thus Far and No Further – or Rungli-Rungliot – by Rumer Godden

In 1940, when her husband joined the army, Rumer Godden and her two young daughters settled in a rented house in Kashmir; set between tea gardens on the Himalayan slopes below Darjeeling.

This is the journal that she wrote there.

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first three 10% reports are here, here, here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already. It may take me a while to get there but that doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying the journey.

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