Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 12 August 2017

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS ... by Victoria Cornwall


One day I will have a study of my own to write in, rather than a corner of my son’s former bedroom. I can see it in my mind’s eye now. I will have a shelf dedicated to research books and another displaying the first editions of my novels. The room will be tastefully decorated, with perhaps a vase of fresh flowers in the corner. Of course there would be lots of natural light from a large window, with soft pastel drapes and a spectacular countryside view.  In this room I will write my greatest work … at least that is the plan.

Henna Cliff on the North Coast of Cornwall
Of course, writers don’t have to have a study to write in. In fact there are many famous writers who have written their greatest work in an unusual place. I don’t know how much is truth and how much is fabrication, but I have heard that John le Carre wrote on a train, D.H..Lawrence wrote under the trees, Virginia Wolf in a storage room, Dame Edith Sitwell in an open coffin and Roald Dahl in a writing hut at the bottom of his garden. However, the most interesting place I know of is built into a north facing Cornish cliff, and I had the pleasure of visiting it one summer as I walked the coastal path.

Hawker's Hut
Hawker’s Hut was built around 1844, from timber taken from wrecked ships, namely the Caledonia, the Phoenix, and the Alonzo. To reach it one has to briefly leave the coastal path and descend down the steep gradient by way of some slate steps. It was built by Robert Stephen Hawker, vicar, poet and antiquarian of Cornwall, who could name Charles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson amongst his friends. He was thought of as a compassionate man, who provided a Christian burial for around fifty shipwrecked sailors washed up upon his shore.

He was also considered an eccentric, as he preferred to dress in a claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots and a pink brimless hat. Tales about him added to his reputation - he talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig and a stag as pets. It is thought he even excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays. What we do know for sure is that he introduced the Harvest Festival celebrations to his church, a thanksgiving service where people bring fruit and vegetables they’ve grown to give thanks for a good harvest. The tradition continues today in Cornish churches and chapels up and down the county and the food is later sold and the money donated to a good cause.

Greenway and Caunter Beaches, Cornwall
Despite his busy pastoral life, he spent many hours sitting in his hut, looking at the breathtaking views while he wrote his poems, letters and smoked opium. Today, his small writing retreat is considered the smallest property in the National Trust portfolio.

The hut, which only contains a bench, is built into the hillside, with a turf roof and only the width of a path in-front of it. The Atlantic Ocean crashes on the rocks below, providing a roaring backdrop to the solitary place. The door has two parts, so one can sit inside and be protected from the wind, yet still enjoy the view of the dark blue sea meeting the ever-changing sky above. If one sits at the back, it appears that the hut is on a precipice, with nothing but the roaring Atlantic Ocean, rolling and foaming onto the jagged rocks below.

Hawker wrote many poems and published several volumes such as Records of the Western Shore (1832), Poems (1836), Ecclesia (1840), Reeds Shaken with the Wind (1843/44), Echoes From Old Cornwall (1846). Eventually, money and other worries led him into a gradual decline of depression and delusions. As he lay dying, he converted to Catholicism and when he died, the mourners for this much loved and respected vicar wore purple instead of black.

Hawker's greatest legacy to the Cornish people is his poem The Song of the Western Men. It is a poem that the Cornish people still hold close to their hearts today as they sing it as their anthemic song “Trelawny”.

I may dream of having an ideal study one day, but Robert Stephen Hawker needed no great room to write his works and be remembered for years after he left this world. All he needed was some driftwood, formed into a small hut and built into the face of the North Cornish Coastline. It was what he could see, hear, smell, taste and feel on the sea breeze that inspired his writing, plus the ability to appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the natural world around him.

Do you have an unusual or special place, where you like to read, think or write? Perhaps you have heard about someone else's. I would love to hear about it.





Saturday, 5 August 2017

THE END OF THE STUPID HEROINE? by Gill Stewart



I hope, I really hope, that we will soon, finally, see the end of the stupid heroine. You know the one I mean, the one who is Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) and needs rescuing at every turn. Usually she is rescued by the hero, occasionally by a good friend or relative. And the hero is attractive and capable, but if it’s a female friend/relative then she’s not nearly as attractive as the heroine because apparently being TSTL makes you sexy and desirable. Personally I think it makes her Too Stupid To Be Loved and I find it difficult to understand why the hero is attracted to her.

TSTL heroines were especially prominent in times past. Although Georgette Heyer has some excellent feisty heroines (the eponymous Venetia and Sophy) she also has some quite foolish ones (Horatia in The Convenient Marriage, Nell in April Lady). And I haven’t read any Barbara Cartland for decades, but as far as I can remember all her heroines were TSTL. In fact, some of them were too stupid to speak in complete sentences, but that’s a topic for another day. Almost all Mills and Boon heroines I read in my teens were TSTL – in fact the first time I came across a book with a female doctor as a heroine my teenage mind couldn’t compute it: if she was a doctor she must be bright, so how could she be the heroine??

I would like to think we have moved on from this mindset and that we don’t ever meet TSTL heroines these days. However, there is evidence to the contrary. Bella in the Twilight series is often TSTL and yet she is adored by the vampire hero, and by thousands of teenage readers. Why? Really? I haven’t managed to read any of E L James’ books to the end, but Anastasia strikes me as another TSTL heroine. Just by way of example, in the first chapter of Fifty Shades Of Grey she: is pushed into doing an interview she doesn’t want to do, dresses inappropriately, doesn’t know what Christian Grey looks like or his age despite him being a famous local, falls over her own feet, can’t work the recording device and just generally hasn’t done even the most basic preparation for the task at hand. So TSTLs are clearly (and unfortunately) not yet dead and gone.

But there is hope! Mills and Boon heroines these days occasionally do something silly, or make mistakes, but they are not unbelievably stupid. The heroines of all the women’s fiction books I have read in the last ten years have been either reasonably or exceptionally capable. As well as appearing in much crime fiction as the corpse (where she obviously was TSTL, but was not the heroine), women also often feature as the detective or sleuth. Erotica also often features a strong heroine, so E L James is not typical of the genre.

I don’t read much literary fiction, but I think in general there have been fewer TSTL heroines here, although there are often unattractive ones (and I don’t mean in appearance).

I would like to say to my fellow female writers: if you are a writer, you are probably not stupid. So please don’t portray women in your books as stupid. And to male writers: a stupid heroine is not a realistic heroine, so don’t go down that route. I’m pleased to say that having scanned the list of current best-selling romances (the genre that interests me most) I can’t see a stupid heroine among them. From Jill Mansell to Katie Fforde, from Trisha Ashley to Veronica Henry – the heroines may be wacky, they may be quirky, but they are not stupid! Progress has indeed been made. Compare this to the 1970s when books by Judith Krantz and Jacqueline Susann dominated the best-seller lists.

I’d be fascinated to know if anyone has adored a book with a stupid heroine – and, if so, why?

Saturday, 29 July 2017

THE LOST ART OF LETTER-WRITING ......

...... or is it a lost art? Today it is pouring down with rain as it has been for the past two days. My grandchildren - Alex who is ten, and Emily, who had her sixth birthday yesterday - are staying for the weekend. The trip to the beach has been cancelled so what are they doing to entertain themselves? Well, they've built a post box out of giant Lego, that's what. Emily has taken a fancy to a hessian bag I was given for my birthday and is postman. We are all writing letters to one another. They go something like this. 'Dear Grandma, what is for supper tonight? Love Granddad.' (I'm tempted to say whatever it is he fancies cooking, but that's another blogpost!) 'Dear Granddad, I love you. Emily' 'Alex, can I have some of your Haribos? Emily' 'Grandma, I do not need a bath tonight. Alex' They are getting through rainforests of paper! But then, they are young and are yet to embrace emails and texts and Twitter and Facebook for sending messages. And thank goodness for that, I say. And besides, they are getting excellent writing practice. And those letters are going into their 'treasures' box as fast as they write and receive them. I have a friend who lives just six streets away from me and has taken up the pen again - a Schaeffer fountain pen which she fills with black ink. She likes to cut articles from newspapers and send them to me with a handwritten note - 'Saw this, and thought of you'. She has the most beautiful handwriting and I can tell it gives her as much pleasure to write these little notes as it does me to receive them.
On my birthday this year (a rather significant one!) I had a card from a friend in Dundowran, Queensland, Australia. There was a handwritten letter in with the card - just two sides of paper but it was full of news; her mother's sudden death, her son's marriage, a grandchild on the way - which was totally unexpected and it brought a lump to my throat to think she had sat down and thought to write to me about things which were affecting her life. I Googled where she lives and for a few moments it felt as though I was with her, sharing her loss, sharing her joy.
There are, of course, many historic letters written by famous (and infamous) people that we can now all look at. If I just think of two famous writers - say, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen - it gets me thinking ... will well-known and much-published and lauded writers of today have any handwritten letters kept for posterity? Will there be any handwritten book manuscripts of today's authors kept in museums? I am hardly famous and my handwriting leaves a lot to be desired (I blame having learned shorthand which I had to write at great speed way back then!) and I think I'd be too afraid to take one of those 'What your handwriting says about you' tests! So, I leave you with some very classy handwriting - not mine! How does your handwriting shape up? And do you hand-write letters?
P.S. Back in the day I wrote, and received, love-letters which I certainly hope haven't been kept for posterity! Too embarrassing!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

A Few of our Favourite Bookshops...


They say there's no friend as loyal as a book, and I'm not going to argue. The best thing about friends, I think, is that they understand you as an individual -- and all of the Novel Points of View team have their favourites. Here they are.

Gill 
‘The choice of my favourite bookshop has been made very easy because a) there is only one bookshop close to where I live and b) it’s an absolutely fabulous one! It’s the Argyll Book Centre in Lochgilphead, which is just off the (quiet) main street of this small Argyll town. What I like most about it is the broad selection of books, from local history to geology, from literary fiction to romance, and from serious biographies to children’s picture books. It has what a good independent bookshop should have – a feeling of welcome. It is also impossible to walk in there and walk back out without buying a book … or three. For anyone holidaying in this lovely part of the world I would thoroughly recommend it.’

Victoria

Wadebridge Bookshop
My favourite bookshop would have to be Wadebridge Bookshop in Cornwall. It has been a bookshop for as long as I can remember, although it has changed owners over the years. Small and perfectly formed, you can purchase any book from them as they are happy to order it in if it is not on their shelves. They are such a dab hand at hunting down books that they even run an out of print service and pride themselves on being able to locate most out of print books. 

Wadebridge Bookshop also offers excellent discounts for teachers, students, reading groups and their regular customers. They have an extensive range of Cornish titles – including those from local artists, Cornish language poetry and study books, maps, walking guides and Cornish culture and history. I am happy to say that they are also very supportive of local writers. In a time when most shops look the same in every town, Wadebridge Bookshop remains a unique jewel, where they have more books at their fingertips than their mere bookshelves can hold.

Linda
Here's Linda with Matthew and her first Choc Lit publication
TO TURN FULL CIRCLE
The Torbay Bookshop here in Paignton gets my vote for favourite bookshop. It’s been a winner in Best Independent Bookseller lists more than a few times. Over the years – about twenty or so – I’ve got to know the owners Matthew and Sarah Clarke very well. I knew them as a reading customer long before I ever became a writer. But when I did, they very generously offered me a launch evening and a Saturday book-signing as each book came out (I’ve had six, or it might be seven, such evening and daytime events there now) and even provided wine and chocolate for my guests. Did I say they are also a chocolate franchise? How good can you get – books and chocolate! And then there is the guest list of other people the Torbay Bookshop has held book-signings for – Kate Adie, Sir Patrick Moore, Lesley Pearse, Micahel Morpurgo, Marcia Willett, Colin Dexter, Kate Furnivall, Brian May, and Francesco da Mosto amongst many, many, others ..... and then there was me!


Rae -  
Choosing a favourite local bookshop would be much like choosing a favourite child – 
x
impossible - and so instead I’ve picked a bookshop, or perhaps I should say bookstore, that I’d dreamt of visiting for a long time. Last year, I was lucky enough to find myself browsing the 18 miles of shelving (heaven for any booklover!) of the independent bookstore, TheStrand, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City.

Here’s Rae, browsing some of the trolleys of discounted books
parked beneath the famous strawberry red canopy.
Opened in 1927, The Strand was named after the London street where writers like Thackeray and Dickens once gathered and book publishers thrived. Selling new, used and rare books, with over 200 employees, The Strand is also a popular spot for shooting movies, having appeared in Six Degrees of Separation, Julie & Julia and Remember Me – starring Robert Pattinson, who played a Strand employee.

My first glimpse of the delights to come was when I spotted cute little kiosks, selling second-hand books, located on the edge of Central Park. But it was the main store I really wanted to see.

Spread over three floors, The Strand is a wonderful rabbit warren of a bookstore, with books literally filling shelves from ceiling to floor. It offers interesting quiet nooks, where, even in New York City, it’s possible to find a little hiding corner to enjoy discovering a new read. One of my favourite sections was the Banned Books table, a sobering reminder of the importance of freedom of speech.

And finally, a book recommendation from one of the books I purchased (I’ve no intention of confessing how many I actually bought!) - A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash.


Jennie

Here in France, bookshops where I can browse and buy English language books are few and far between. Sad to say without Amazon I’d be in a book desert. So I’m going back in time again with my choice! My favourite bookshop was without question the much missed Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth.

Not sure how to describe the ambience this particular bookshop had and why it was so special to a lot of people. It wasn’t particularly big unlike the mammoth Waterstones etc that we’re used to these days but it was well laid out with a separate room for children’s books (which I was thrilled to be involved in organising and in charge of at one stage). Christopher, the owner, was not a fan of the ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ school of thought so there would be a couple of copies of the latest ‘must have‘ novel out on the shelves and the rest would be in a nearby pile behind the scenes, ready to replace sold copies.  

Upstairs, open wooden steps which I’m sure Health and Safety would ban these days was a  - I was going to describe it as modest gift shop - but it was more than that. Tapestries, cards, local pottery etc etc it was a real treasure trove of different things from around the world - not just China! If I remember correctly the local history books were up there too at one stage.

The whole shop was very much part of the community at the time and was always busy. The outcry when it closed was huge. Petitions were signed but to no avail and it was Dartmouth’s loss when it closed. 

Happily there are now two bookshops in the town - the Community Bookshop which keeps the premise of the Harbour Bookshop alive with links to Christopher, and  the Dartmouth Bookseller a small independent bookshop in the centre of town. I shall be visiting both in August - can’t wait!

Jennifer

The wonderful window of Penrith's Hedgehog Bookshop
I've had many a long chat with the proprietress of the Hedgehog Bookshop in Penrith, and I've confided more than one secret - but I don't think I've ever told her that she's twice saved my bacon. My husband is a difficult man to buy for, and when asked what he wants for his birthday he always says: 'nothing'. Which is fine, except that I like to give him something, so I always give him books.

The past couple of years, we've been in Penrith, in Cumbria, for his birthday. On both occasions I've arrived presentless and been forced into an emergency dash to the good old Hedgehog. The first time I was completely hopeless. I rushed in, described to the owner (I don't know her name, but let's call her 'Jane') my husband's peculiar and catholic interests, and within minutes she'd rounded up a perfect selection. Last year I was a bit more organised and at least had an idea of what I wanted. I went in with a list of books, one of them published that very day -- and Jane had them all. 

The shop is a sequence of Aladdin's caves, each one filled with treasures. The collection of local interest is particularly fascinating, and I never leave the place without a new book on a subject I didn't know was so fascinating. (Ley lines. Stone circles. The drowned village of Mardale Green. The secret places of Cumbria. that sort of thing.)

Jane loves books so much that she won't let them out of the shop unless they're wrapped in brown paper, to protect them on the perilous journey to their forever home. I've adopted dozens of her pets - and I'll be acquiring many more.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

It's that time of year again

The summer weather has finally arrived in fits and starts this year on the East coast although as I write this there have been some heavy showers of rain today. But the weather can't dampen my excitement  as I have only a week left to work before my holidays. 

The beautiful North West coast of Scotland where the days gone on forever (when the sun is shining). 

Split Rock at Sunset 
Although I have only been visiting the area for 4 years or so it is an area that captures your heart and draws you back.
Audrey doesn't like to admit how long she has been visiting the area but her girls have been going up there since they were babies. They adore their summer holidays of freedom and fun with friends old and new.

Stoer Beach
This beautiful area is currently on the North Coast 500, Scotland's answer to Route 66. People will complete the route in 3 days but I feel they are missing out on the hidden treasures, only catching the highlights of the scenery. Regardless of the increase in tourists which is only a positive, you still feel that you could be the only person in the world. 
Looking over Fishermans Bay to Split Rock
 
Two of these photos have been borrowed from Audrey's phone because on occasion I have been known to focus to much on the perfect lighting , composition of a photo and sometimes it can be liberating to just point and shoot. 
So although I will be chasing the light and no doubt setting my alarm for a ridiculous hour, I plan to also be more present in the holiday and take photos that capture the moment as what is a photo if not a memory frozen in time.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Meeting Christopher Robin in Dartmouth

I'm afraid I'm cheating a little bit this week. The last couple of weeks have been manic and today when I intended to write this week's blog, we had a 3 hour power cut! So, I recently did a weekend blitz blog tour for the paperback publication of my book The Little Kiosk By The Sea which is set in Dartmouth, South Devon. For one of the blogs I was asked to write for, https://everywhere-and-nowhere.com I talked about inspiration.  For those that missed it on the blog tour I thought I'd post it here.

Dartmouth is an inspirational place - it inspires me anyway, even though I rarely get to visit these days. Writers, artists, actors, film makers have all come to Dartmouth for one reason or another. 

Down the years there have been many famous people born or associated with the town. My favourite ‘celebrity’ (how he’d hate me using that word) was my boss who became a friend, Christopher Robin.

When we first moved to Dartmouth I was thrilled to get a job in The Harbour Bookshop owned and run by Christopher and his wife Lesley. For a bookworm and aspiring writer it was the perfect job for me.

For many years The Harbour Bookshop was at the hub of all things Dartmouth and Christopher himself was a major tourist draw. Something which he loathed, being essentially a very private and shy man. Many is the time I saw him making for the back stairs and escaping from the shop when the clamouring of tourists for his attention became too much. He never minded signing tattered copies of the ‘Pooh’ books clutched by wide eyed children as their grandmothers/mothers hovered anxiously in the background, but he was never entirely happy having to make small talk with strangers. But however much he hated being in the limelight he was always unfailing polite to those demanding his attention and autograph. 








The above is the frontispiece of one of his acclaimed autobiography volumes - he wrote three in all after he gave up running the bookshop. He kindly signed and gave me all three. Sadly one of the three, The Enchanted Places was lent to a friend and never returned.

Christopher and Lesley ran the bookshop for 30 years and during the Sixties and Seventies were heavily involved with the School Libraries Association, helping to instil a love of books in all children. The great sadness of Christopher’s life was that his beloved daughter Clare suffered from cerebral palsy and he was never able to give her the childhood he wanted. A keen environmentalist he loved the countryside and was never happier than when at home in the countryside outside Dartmouth.

I learnt a lot about books, the world of publishing and about life in general whilst working for Christopher all those years ago. One of the disappointments of my life is that he’d died before my first novel was published and his iconic Harbour Bookshop had closed its doors, thus deny me the opportunity of seeing any of my novels on the shelves.  

                                                               * * * * * * * * * *





Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Luxury of Language

View from (well, near) the corpse road at Mardale
I have a new addiction, one I recommend for any writer. It’s Robert Macfarlane’s Twitter feed.

You may not have heard of Robert Macfarlane, and I’m not quite sure how to describe him — and when you’ve finished this blog, you’ll understand how important choosing the right words is. Put most simply, he’s a writer and an academic whose subject is related to the landscape. (I’m sure there’s a word for that, and one far more specific than the obvious ‘geography’). I’m halfway through his book The Old Ways and am enjoying it, though i have to confess I’ve ground to a halt. There’s only so much word-richness a girl can digest at once.

On holiday in the Lakes recently, I popped into Wordsworth’s birthplace, where the National Trust had an excellent exhibition curated by Dr Macfarlane. It was on the theme of what he (I presume) calls ‘word-hoarding’ — gathering descriptive words for the landscape and for the weather and so on. Each word was accompanied by some sumptuous photos. It’s right up my street — words and the landscape, two things I love.

A 'moon road'
I’d have loved to have a book about the exhibition, but there wasn’t one, so I headed for Twitter. And here we go. Each day Dr Macfarlane posts a word or phrase and a picture to go with it. 

Some of the words I know and use — fluting, for example, or corpse road or Helm wind. Others I know but don’t use — the simmer dim (for the midsummer dusk/dawn in the Northern Isles) or siege for the place from which a heron launches itself on unsuspecting fish. Others are completely new to me — summer geese, which he describes as “steam that shimmers up from the land when hot sun follows brief rain”, or today’s offering, stubble-stag — a folk name for a hare.

Best of all, his many followers join in, with their own experiences, their local or remembered dialect words, their photographs. Long threads of word-magic spring onto my computer screen, punctuated by pictures of woods, or summer evenings, of silver lakes and cloud-shadowed mountains. 

Twitter can be a grim place, pitted with elephant traps for the unwary, but the daily threads I find here are as wholesome as home-made apple pie. Go and follow @RobGMacfarlane. I promise you won’t regret it. 

Jennifer Young