Is this Chance or Synchronicity?

Birdcage Walk.

#Friday’s Favourites was a blog about “Birdcage Walk” by Helen Dunmore. It is a book, I’d wanted to read since it was published, because the book is set in Bristol, the city that has inspired so much of my work and the title refers to a place, I know well.

That, has proved not to be the only connection.

Needing to find something on the bookshelves in my office, I embarked on a wholescale re-vamp. I decided that my books and any anthologies, or magazines that have my stories in, I would put on the same shelf. It was interesting to see how much there was and to come across one or two pieces that I had forgotten about.

HensYears ago, in the 90’s I had some stories published in a magazine called “Hens”. It was set up by Harriet Kline, a friend of my daughter Posy Miller’s from university, to promote writing by women.

Looking through edition 5, I found, not only my story “Bubbles”, but also an interview by Helen Dunmore under the title “Published Women”.

A claim to fame? A salutary tale? Or one to be encouraged by, as we were all writers somewhere in the middle of our careers?

Who knows?

It just seems strange to discover, at the same time as I am reading her last novel, yet another link to this brilliant writer.

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#Friday Favourites: Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk.“Birdcage Walk” is a novel I have wanted to read it since it came out. Then my mum lent me her copy and a few days later, when Mike was shopping, he rang me from the supermarket to ask if I wanted him to buy it for me.

I wish now that I had said yes, as this is a book that I would definitely want to keep. Not only is it set in Bristol, one of my favourite cities, but I know Birdcage walk well, as it is close to where I went to school. The path through the disused graveyard sparked my short story “Angels’ Wings” and like Helen Dunmore, the city and its history, have inspired a number of my novels, particularly “House of Shadows”.

“Birdcage Walk”, however, has a depth and quality to which I can only aspire. It tells the story of an unknown woman writer, Julia Fawkes, well known in her lifetime for her radical views, but now completely unknown. Nothing she wrote has survived, which gives rise to the question of what writers, especially women, can expect to leave behind them.

Julia is mourned by her daughter Lizzie and it is through her eyes that we see the world of radical thinkers to which Julia and her circle belong and the way in which they struggle with the moral and ethical consequences of the French Revolution.

Lizzie has removed herself form their circle, to marry a man, whose values are in complete opposition of her mother and stepfather. At first totally in love with Diver, she gradually begins to see that there is a darkness in her husband, which will threaten everything she knows and loves.

The gradually rise in tension is almost unbearable. The details of eighteenth century life vivid, yet unobtrusive, the images of the terrace of houses rising up above the Gorge, symbolic of the themes of the novel.

The book is at once a psychological thriller, a historical novel and a treatise on legacy and loss. What makes it all the more poignant is that this is Helen Dunmore’s last novel. In the Afterword, she writes,

“The question of what is left behind by a life haunts the novel. While I finished and edited it I was already seriously ill, but not yet aware of this. I suppose that a writer’s creative self must have access to knowledge of which the conscious mind and the emotions are still ignorant, and that a novel written at such a time, under such a growing shadow, cannot help being full of a sharper light, rather as a landscape becomes brilliantly distinct in the last sunlight before a story.”

Helen Dunmore died in June 2017.

 

 

 

What do you do with old photographs?

Little Manchester Snow

The year we got snowed in for three days

Time after time, when people are asked what they would save from a house fire, they say their family photos. Which, when you consider how rarely we look at them, seems odd. And yet in another way this makes perfect sense.

Those photos are more than pictures. They are memories. Mostly happy ones too. The bad times are rarely, if ever captured on film.

They remind us of who we were, what we looked like and what we did. And they make us smile.

Little Manchester Family pic

Family portrait. Just look at the hair!

They also link the generations. The grandchildren can see what parents and grandparents looked like when they were young and get a glimpse of what life was like back there in the dark ages.

I’ve spent the afternoon clearing out a box of old photographs. They are now sorted into categories and ready to be put into albums. An old fashioned way of storing them, but what else do you do?

Some I’ve scanned and will save on my hard drive, others might be put into frames, but there is not enough space on the shelves for most and those in my pictures folder won’t get looked at very often.

So there they will be, volumes and volumes, from when I was a baby onwards. There are pictures of the holidays we had, houses we lived in and animals we owned, or in the case of the cats, deigned to share our home.

It’s a visual record of my life and of my children’s child and young adulthood.

Little Manchester pumpkin

Getting ready for Halloween

And one or two which are actually quite good photographs in their own right.

 

 

#Friday Favourites: The Riddle-Master’s Game by Patricia A McKillip

The Riddle-Master's GameMy choice this week is by an author who is new to me. To my shame I’d never heard of Patricia A. McKillip, nor of her trilogy “The Riddle-Master’s Game.”

The first of the three books “The Riddle Master of Hed” was published in 1976 and the other two novels “Heir of Sea and Fire” and “Harpist in the Wind”, followed in 1977 and 1979. I, however, read all three in the same volume and what a treat that was.

The writing is beautiful; both vivid and poetic, it creates a totally believable world, where magic exists in parallel to mundane daily life, cattle are milked, pigs herded and shape changed, by those who have the power.

With a rich layer of myth and legend, which harks back to Celtic origins the novels explore the truth of things, the importance of knowing who you are and following your destiny. Hence the part that riddles play in the plot, because riddle can conceal and reveal meaning and decoding them is a gift which brings with it unknown dangers.

To question, is to upset the balance of things, but Morgon, Prince of Hed, is a riddle master and cannot help but seek to find the truth, even though it leads him where he does not want to go.

The Princess Raederle is also in conflict with what she knows and what she fears. The two are destined to be together. There is a prophecy that they will marry, but how and when is far from clear.

The first book follows Morgon’s story, the second Raederle’s and they come together in the last volume, where they face far more fundamental questions about the nature and very existence of the High One on whom the survival of the world appears to rely.

I love this mix of seriousness with domestic scenes and the mysterious beauty of the white vesta and the depiction of the court of the wolf king where wild animals come to shelter from the winter.

What also appeals are the strong women characters, Raederle herself and Morgon’s

The Pleasure of Small Things

 

Acer in pot

I’m in the middle of a big project. My new novel “Shadows on the Grass” is going through its final edit and I’m writing a spin off story about some of the characters, who make a brief appearance in the book.

The story is only in first draft and though I’m enjoying writing it, there is also the sensation that nothing is finished, which is quite frustrating. It’s as if, in spite of all the hours I’ve spent on my computer, nothing has been achieved.

Frustration leads of a feeling of pointlessness and my way of dealing with this is to concentrate on the small things in life that give me pleasure.

White geraniumThe white geranium, on the bathroom, windowsill, that has blossomed unexpectedly, the show of periwinkleperiwinkle

 

that shines against the dark green of its leaves, a hot cup of tea, kicking through fallen leaves, the burst of colour from an acer, a glass of wine and so much more.

Writing down five good things that have happened during the day helps too. My “Good Things Book” is another of my pleasures.Feel good book A Laura Ashley Notebook, I love the texture of the paper, the print and feel of the colour.

Even writing about my small pleasures makes me smile. “Shadows on the Grass” is on its way, but while I’m waiting, I’ll keep noting down all the good stuff.

Friday Favourites: Fables and Fabrications by Jan Edwards

Fables and Fabrications

I love spooky stories, the shiver that slides up my back at any hint of the supernatural, the feeling of unease that lingers long after the film is over, or the book has been closed. Given the popularity of the genre, I know I am not alone, but it sometimes hard to find a good anthology of ghost/weird tales, which is why “Fables and Fabrications” by Jan Edwards, is one my favourite collections.

Jan is a subtle writer. No sudden shock horror in her books, just a gradual built up of tension that leads, inevitably, to an ending that might surprise, but which always feels right. Her stories often have an undertone of myth or legend that add depth to the narrative. Norse, in the case of “Grey Magic for Cat Lovers,” Classical, for “Mayday Come Askew,” and Celtic in “Winter Eve.”

My favourite story in the collection, however, references Eastern Mythology. “Pet Therapy” is truly chilling. It deals with death and sprits who steal souls and is one of those stories that, even having read it a number of times, I still wish, for the sake of the main character, had ended differently.

But then, if it had, it would not have been included in this collection.

If you want a good read for October, “Fables and Fabrications” is on special offer on Amazon. To get it while you can, click here