An impassioned reader's guide to books new and old

Friday, 4 May 2012

Something I want to say ...


Time is running out ... If you follow more than one of my blogs (thankyou, I appreciate your interest and kindness), you will see this week that all posts overlap - with virtually similar content. Best, I thought, to make simultaneous announcements. 

With my professional work now crossing several genres, and a necessary change in our lifestyle due to various 'happenings', it seemed sensible to re-evaluate my blogs and the purpose for which each was created - a resume of why they were started and how they have adapted to subsequent factors; which I here share with you, my readers. Although each blog is an entity in itself, they all interlink; the sum of the whole is greater than the constituent parts. Click here for the whole of the story ...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Books for Gardeners - some old and new favourites

Recreating a Book (can you guess, without scrolling down to what I have written about the circumstances?
I have been undecided as to whether each book post should concentrate on a single topic – gardening, travel or craft, and aspects of each thereof – or a mixed book-bag of titles. On the point of seeking the opinion of kind and dedicated followers, I decided against doing so, for it would be churlish to ignore the result of any ‘vote’; for whatever the swing in favour of one or the other, someone would feel I had ignored their preference.
Amazing that this was an ivy-clad wall in a Show Garden - but exactly as I recall from the book (which I happened to read again earlier this year)
Reality, yet unreal

So today’s post will feature books associated with GARDENING, the first somewhat indirectly for it is a children’ book which this year celebrates its centenary. I would never have thought to include it had it not been the focus of a garden design at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

cover of the original
1911 edition
It was a book that captivated me in my childhood, and some titles never leave you. This is one of them, as engaging now as when I was ten; and my hardback edition was I am sure illustrated by J.Arthur Rackham.

'Arthur Rackham - A Life With
Illustration' - click HERE to
discover more, or to buy a copy


(On second thoughts, I'm less sure, for I've now discovered and this  bought a book about JAR and as yet cannot find a reference to his having illustrated this particular children's book.) I’d love to know whether a centenary facsimile of the Secret Garden has been published, for I feel equally sure that the copy I loved was my mother’s. The dates would fit; and not many such beautiful books came my way during the second-world war, when I first read this.

First shown on my Dobies Gardening blog but such a joyous picture to celebrate salads - and even the flowers are edible
Let’s move on. I missed the fact it was National Salad Week at the end of July when we were at the RHS Tatton Flower Show, but discovered my omission in a press release within the Suttons Seeds press pack I collected from the Tatton Press Tent. Salads are so easy to grow, and quick and easy to prepare – yes I know this is a book-blog! – but you do need to actually grow and eat what you read about. Some of my favourite gardening books are devoted to salads – do you own / know / covet any of these that follow?

Click HERE for more details
or to order a copy
'The Organic Salad Garden' by Joy Larkcom (originally 'The Salad Garden') published in both hardback and paperback by Frances Lincoln in 2001. At the time, The Observer said that this was "the edible gardener's bible', and it certainly is as far as salad plants are concerned. Based on organic principles, it covers every aspect from site preparation to harvesting, detailing special growing techniques and giving advice on the best salad varieties for growing and for flavour. With full descriptions of more than 200 plants - traditional, exotic, herbs, wildlings and edible flowers - this book is indeed worthy of a place on every gardener's bookshelf. Ir gives suggestions for creating a salad garden that is both practical and beautiful, and includes recipes for using one's produce - I love the sharp-flavoured green salad with hot bacon dressing - and as I have some young mixed lettuce seedlings ready for planting out will be able to enjoy other salads in the weeks to come.

Click HERE for more details
or to order a copy
And now to another favourite which I acquired when I was creating my own first potagers filled with salads, herbs and edible flowers: 'The Salad Book' by Clare Connery, published in 1993 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. It has a freshness about it that I love, and is based upon the author's garden in County Down, Northern Ireland. As a journalist and chef, she is well qualified to create this book, but what comes shining through is her love of tranquility, and her childhood memories of her grandmother's kitchen garden which she recreated in a tiny patch of land in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. The pictures somehow soothed me, too, and taking it off the shelf again for this post, I am all set to read it yet again, and add some of Clare's inspiration in my own current tiny 'secret garden' veg plot.

Click HERE for more
details or to buy
this book.
Finally to a recent title that will appeal to all struggling to garden within less than ideal surroundings - or indeed who wish to grow edible crops for the first time. 'NewUrban Farmer' by Celia Brooks Brown (Quadrille Publishing, 2010) intrigues with its subtitle of 'from plot to plate: a year on the allotment', for it could just as easily begin in an urban garden anywhere. In reality, Celia (an accomplished food writer and professional cook) discovered and took on a neglected plot on an allotment in North London in 2007. Part-journal, part-gardening-manual and part-recipe-book, she has divided the year into four seasons, subdivided into individual months and again into two-sections per months with key tasks and seasonal veg - the sort of book one wishes one had thought of and written oneself; and all illustrated with inspirational photos.


BUYING BOOKS: you will now see that by clicking on any book title link within this blog - sidebars or within posts - it will take you to Amazon where you can discover more about the book, or buy it at reduced prices. That's a quick and easy option, but nevertheless, I would urge you to support local bookshops which often offer other services, and where you can browse at leisure (should you have the time) and even enjoy a cup of coffee and some delicious home-made food.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Reading the Signs

some of my latest acquisitions, destined for historical research - and other purposes
I don't just collect books, I hanker after maps, never go on any journey without making sure that I have one or more of the area I will be visiting. I do from time to time, when I withdraw one from the stash, realise that I need an updated edition. What's the use of using maps I inherited from my parents when they do not show motorways, or bypasses? I now even buy and collect old maps, the older and scruffier the better. Some are out of interest, to compare the then with the now (depressing at times). Others serve another purpose - see end of post below.

poor photo (mine!) taken of an area within the latest edition of OS Landranger 118. purchased online a couple of days ago so we can locate the campsite where we will be staying whilst visiting the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show
You can read maps in the same way you read books - you only have to learn to read the signs; instead of putting together letters to make words, and words to create sentences. A whole new world opens in front of you as you spread the map on the floor and plan your journey, knowing to avoid the the one-in-four Sutton Bank in Yorkshire with a caravan in tow (prohibited anyway) or that steep valleys facing north in winter are likely to be in shadow when you are planning an early-morning photoshoot, or that a footpath winding up a steep gradient will take far longer to walk than one through water meadows along a river. 

how I wish I could find my copy
I recall the time I was given the most eye-opening book as a child, for it taught me HOW to read a map. It is sadly now out of print - you can obtain copies second hand, for a price! It used a clever concept, showed an enlarged section of a map and then alongside it a visual representation of the scene you would be looking at; the scene was described in words as well, as if the two children were really going for a walk. Very clever, and I wish I knew what happened to my copy. Originally published by Blackie & Sons (I think) it was reprinted by OUP in around 1954. The pic is a screen grab so somewhat poor.

fair weather, cold-front cloud after the warm front has passed through - just as today, though this was taken some days ago
And when I bought the latest bundle of old maps from a local antiques shop (most a pound a piece), I came to thinking that we are reading signs all the time, often without realising it. Road signs warning of hidden dangers around a  bend, weeds in the garden (they often tell you about the nature of the soil), bird foot-prints in the snow and that a fox passed through the garden overnight.

pressure chart this morning
Landscape that indicates where a motte and bailey once stood, or a deserted medieval village (best seen from the air). Cloud formations help you to forecast coming rain, or thunderstorms - useful to pea-patch pilots, too, and sailors. Reading the isobars and frontal systems tells you far  more about the expected weather than any TV forecast. Wind-strength, too (the closer together the white lines, the stronger the wind will be; they are like gradients on a topological map. This is today's chart. Click HERE if you want to follow through the anticipated sequence for the next few days, and bookmark it if you want to refer to the site daily, as I do. (Email me if it doesn't work, and I will explain how to locate this section of the BBC's weather forecasting website.)

This is an old chart, so now out of date.
It shows part of the Manchester control zone,
as it was in the mid-1990s.
Specialist maps are an eye-opener: the charts we used to pilot ourselves around the country and abroad were read three-dimensionally, ensuring we did not fly through restricted airspace, or overfly conurbations at too low a height. My husband used to laugh at me when we flew across the channel - I always had my finger on the map; "reading the waves are you?" he would tease. I did so even when flying in cloud, worked out our position on speed, time and known distance - dead reckoning; I always like to know where I am! 

And as this is a Book-Blog, it's time for books! Here are two relevant to 'reading the signs' that recently came my way:

'The Natural Navigator' by Tristan Gooley, published 2010 by Virgin Books; ISBN 978-1-905264-94-0. "The perfect book for getting you started on your own adventure" says Sir Ranulph Fiennes - put away your map and look up from your GPS. Now there's a thought. According to the author, we are all natural navigators; starting with a simple question, "Which way am I looking?", he blends natural science, myth, folklore and the history of travel into the rare and ancient art of finding your own way using nature's own signposts, from the feel of a rock to the look of the moon. You'll learn how to find your way in the countryside by the shape of trees or how to navigate in a city by natural signs. TG is well qualified to write this book, for he is the only living person to have both flown and sailed solo across the Atlantic. Absorbing, teaching us to use our mind and our senses, and full of fascinating stories. (My first copy arrived in a battered condition, so is being absorbed into an altered journal, an allegory of self; the replacement sits by my beside for night-time reading forays.)

'You Are Here' by Katherine Harmon, published 2004 by Princetown Architectural Press; ISBN 978-1-56898-430-8. Subtitled "personal geographies and other maps of the imagination", this enchanting book goes beyond the boundaries of the real world. Evidently, the desire to make maps lies deep within us all, and this doesn't mean just maps of place, but of many disciplines - mapping the mind and ideas using images: a technique that is extremely useful even when planning an essay or a complicated project. It's a very visual book - obviously - but KH has admirably explained the provenance of each illustrated piece and the result is an absolute delight; I have fallen in love with it already. A book to delve into time and time again which will have you reaching for pen and paper, doodling, or taking out pencils, crayons and paints, or fabrics, scissors and threads. (I am indebted to whoever it was who mentioned this book in their own Blog, or on Facebook; I instantly got hold of a copy; it's a revelation. So much so that I am taking it away with me, and have this morning purchased a new sketch book with a shiny sea-blue cover, and already titled it 'Another Day, Another Journey'. Map snippets are printed, my art bag located, and whatever first comes into my head when I wake on Monday morning will be lettered onto the page.)


And those old maps I am currently collecting? I turn them into 'Travel Trails' - little concertina booklets backed with fabric in which I write brief notes or word-whispers, adding sketches and photos; a memory of a special occasion or visit to a beloved place.

a folded map, lightly covered with diluted acrylic paint and sprayed with diluted coffee, photos printed and adhered and stitched to cheesecloth, and a few words from my 2010 travels to Northern Ireland and Shropshire

Books mentioned can be purchased either through your local bookshop it online through Amazon. And I crave your indulgence: if you like this post, and the books listed, do please forward it to a friend, or mention it on Facebook, so as to support the authors and publishers who bring us such good reading and fascinating work.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Interim book post

Books from our former house, stored when we moved from there in 1977 at our magazine publishing premises, and then hastily moved into unconverted part of the house in 1999 when we 'retired'. No electricity, no heating and the walls are still as they were when we bought the place in 1969. It's our next project.


At last, a sound night's sleep and I wake to a perfect dawn, eager to be at my desk, writing. This year, since the week before and after midsummer, the weather has been so meteorologically perfect that the last streak of sunset can be seen in the northern sky, and only a few hours later, the sun rises in the north-east; the garden and village green is again bathed in early sunlight, and I cannot sleep. So I read.

Some of my favourite books, to which I often refer when working on commissions. They sit on the top two shelves of a bookcase my husband made for me especially to house my daily clutter (the shelves are not wonky, it's just the angle at which I took the photo).


Recent midsummers have been dull and grey, and I have felt cheated of this northern miracle, missing the early dawns, the first blackbird singing. Today (1st July) is one of those joyous days when you feel that any book you take into your hands, new or old - caressing the cover, the spine, the texture of each page, the smell of printing ink or the mustiness of the attic - will bring delight, no matter how obtuse the subject or the writing. (Although written early on Friday morning, photos were not taken until Sunday 3rd.) 

Yet more working notebooks, within reach of my writing desk.


In the depths of winter, with the cold here in the high Cotswolds seeping into my very being, I am more selective. Wrapped in a shawl (or duvet!), I'll happily re-read old favourites: 'The Snowblind Moon' (a winter book set in America's mid-west), or 'The Enchantress' which gravitates from 18th Century Geneva to the ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. But if my feet and fingers are numb with the cold, I'll creep into bed early with 'Tess of the Durbervilles', grateful that I do not have to endure turnip-picking in stony, frozen ground.

Just a few of the gardening titles awaiting review on the cabinet in  my office; travel titles are oiled on the hall table and sit on the stairs, whilst art books are everywhere.


I had promised a selection of new books for this second post of my new blog. Awaiting attention and inclusion are piles of gardening books, many travel guides, a stack of mixed-media titles: the covers are photographed, I'm in touch with one or two authors, and gradually sifting through my publisher contacts. I'm assembling a list of outstanding independent bookstores (new and second-hand), adding them to the blog sidebars. A slow process - and a chicken-and-egg situation: until I can offer publishers a worthwhile following - and show it on screen, they will be less-inclined to offer support, and until I can offer followers something more concrete than reminiscences, they will not be attracted to this site! So please help me to spread the word.

Read the story of this find on my 'Wild Somerset Child' blog, here; I still haven't dared to cut it up, it sits alongside my writing desk for when I need a particular quote, or so I can just touch it, even though it is falling apart.


Indeed, thankyou to everyone who has commented on this new venture, and to recent 'followers'. I do so appreciate your encouragement, advice and suggestions. I'll leave you with some non-obligatory homework: 'Does the weather or time of year affect what you read?' Discuss.


Books mentioned: (links take you to Amazon and listings for new or second hand-editions and are correct as of 3rd July, 2011) 
'The Snowblind Moon' by John Byrne Cooke (1984), Futura Publications, div of Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd, ISBN 7088-2915-5; 
'The Enchantress',  Han Suyin (1985),  Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-17192-5; 
'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'  by Thomas Hardy (1891), Penguin Books.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Let's begin at the beginning

In my mother's arms (1937) , with my father and grandparents on the left, 
and my great-grandparents on the right


When we are born, who knows what path we will follow, what becomes compulsive or an obsession, and where that will lead? Inspiration can strike one unawares, in strange places: I was writing this in the bath, at the day's end, and the sky outside the low bathroom window was a particular shade of oyster-grey. I often write in the bath! But writing with ink on glossy paper with wet hands is not conducive to sensible thought; the words smudge and my brain runs ahead of me as thoughts tumble and twirl in my mind. So - at the computer now - I welcome you to my new blog; and if those of you who follow any of my others are wondering what has prompted me to create yet another - my fifth - well, this is why.

Ann (me) & PopPop
For a long while I was a solitary, only child, yet with a vivid imagination and somewhat wilful disposition.  Through circumstances of the second world war, as well as my own naughtiness, I was left to my own devices for much of the time - and stumbled upon books. How that came about, and how the encouragement of my great-grandfather and grandfather (pictured left) instilled in me a passion for the printed word, I will leave for anther day.

My current notebooks - all are in use simultaneously




Fast forward. In the course of any working day, books arrive; I pile them upon my desk , or on shelves, even the stairs, awaiting attention - and have done so for 40 years. As I work my way through them (loving every moment), details and descriptions are scribbled down and absorbed into the articles I write. But there is never enough space to do them justice, and I feel such an obligation to the talented authors and splendid publishers who send these books to me. I plan to provide better support.

I know that the 'reviews' I write within magazine book-sections and features, and more recently within blogs, encourage readers to buy. It's confirmed by the statistics that are fed to me. Mind you, I don't like to call them 'reviews'; what I write is always positive - if I don't like or value a book, it is left in the pile! Some books arrive unsolicited, but the vast majority are requested to fit a particular theme in my schedule. Then of course there are the books I buy for myself: history, travel, literature, art, gardening, craft (horrid word, because it covers so many exquisite disciplines). Fact and fiction, my beside book-cabinet made for me by my husband is equally filled with reading matter.

my reading notebook, circa 1965
double click on the image if you want to read what I wrote 46 years ago

And so, this blog will cover (come to the point, Ann): book write-ups - of course! Interviews with authors and publishers - or notes from them; recommended bookshops; second-hand book sources; online purchasing.  That's the real purpose, interspersed with brief moments of the journey that has led me from a.b.c. when I first discovered that I could read (magic), to running our own publishing company, to a writing life that I would never have envisioned all those long years ago. Where would we all be had the printing press never been invented?

a gift from my great-grandfather in the 1940s - the little mahogany cabinet contains a couple of natural history books printed in 1795, along with other small books almost equally old


Because you see, dear reader - if you have ventured this far - everything I write, article or blog, even commercial promotion, has been influenced by my life with books. A beloved retreat, a drug, a passion, and one I would wish to share. (And did any of you book-lovers read under the sheets into the small hours with a torch once you'd been put to bed?)


Next Post: a miscellany of new books