Month: November 2014

Solitude

“It is in a house that one is alone. Not outside it, but inside. Outside, in the garden, there are birds and cats. […] One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in — of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From this light as well, and from the garden. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.” Marguerite Duras, Writing Still thinking about these words, which I first read a few weeks ago in a car full of sleeping children. Yes, we create our own solitude. Or — and how to stop doing this? — we prevent our own solitude. Of course, I was afraid, …

We love: giving special | Part II: colouring & activity books

After last week’s round-up of gift books, here’s a little collection of colouring & activity books that would be perfect for Christmas giving. I love a good colouring book. One that encourages exploration & creativity, but gives confidence and structure — a starting point for little hands & minds to build on. Paper & crayons are great, but sometimes it’s lovely to have something special to work on, and, as a parent, having a colouring book up your sleeve (metaphorically at least) can save the day on rainy days, snuffly days, or don’t-know-what-to-do-days. Here are a few of our favourites. 1.  The Scribble Book by Hervé Tullet. Big, beautiful & fun for even the youngest of artists. This would be my choice for those around 2/3 years+. Tullet is also the author of some fantastically fun interactive (in a low-tech way!) board books like Press Here and The Game of Finger Worms which are also great for younger children. 2. The Colouring Book by Hervé Tulle. What are the right colours for happy people? For sad …

No effort is wasted

“Just doing the work is the whole battle, we always say: making contact. Sit with the novel, be in it. Turn off the internet so you have nowhere else to go. Only rarely is it satisfying. Rarely is there a great chunk you can point to at the end of a day and say, here is what I did today! More often there’s the vague fear you’ve made no progress at all. Where did those hours go? Where is your work? What is this adding up to? You have paid someone else to be with your child while you did this bullshit? The thing continues and continues to feel like a wreck. But it’s your wreck. And you are working on it, even when it seems like bullshit, eating your time and appearing none the better. No effort is wasted, says the Bhagavad Gita on a post-it I stuck to the bottom of the giant computer monitor. But God, some days are a slog.” Elisa Albert I‘ve read Elisa Albert’s essay Where Do I Write? …

We love: giving special | Part I: gift books

A little round-up of some of the books we love the most that would be perfect for giving this Christmas. By ‘gift books’, I mean the kind of thing you might give as a special present: Christmas, birthday, naming day or some other ‘mark-it-properly’ type occasion. Though, let’s face it, who here needs a special reason to give a book? I hesitated about offering any ideas because I’m pretty sure that many of these will already be on the shelf of any book-loving child. So, here’s the deal: let me know what special books you recommend for giving. I’d love to know what the hits are in your home. These are the tried & tested successes in ours. 1. Lavender’s Blue, compiled by Kathleen Lines & illustrated by Harold Jones. All the nursery rhymes you know and all those you have half-forgotten in one beautiful book. First published in 1954, this is the 50th anniversary facsimile edition. We bought T hers for her second birthday & it’s still a favourite five years later. This would …

To wrest a few precise scraps from the void

  “To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.” George Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces I‘ve been looking back through my notebooks for a piece I’m trying to write. Again & again, I’m startled by things that I’d completely forgotten. Rhythms and routines that once seemed they would last forever. A page from 21 February 2010, when the Moose was five days old: ‘How blissfully happy I am, day & night — B talks about what they’ll be like in a couple of years & I cry that now ever has to finish.’ And, beneath it, the quote from George Perec. Two days later: ‘And how it has rained this whole first week of his life & at night as though we are under a tin roof as the comforting heartbeat of drops leaks through the guttering.’ 2 March 2010: ‘The second week …

Barbara Hepworth

  “Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic. For ten years I had passed by with my shopping bags not knowing what lay behind the twenty foot wall…Here was a studio, a yard and garden, where I could work in open air and space.” from Barbara Hepworth — A Pictorial Autobiography Back to St Ives & our magical visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden one late-autumn morning. The light was amazing: winter sun low in the sky, filtering through the foliage and burnishing the bronze. The shadows of leaves playing on stone. And then B showed me the shadows the sculptures cast on other elements of themselves.   Hepworth bought Trewyn Studio in 1949 and lived and worked there from 1950 until her death in 1975. The studio leads directly into the garden, which she gradually filled with her work. The parish church & sea are just visible over the garden wall. And, everywhere you look: green & Hepworth’s sculptures. Bamboo, palm trees; a rose, fuchsias, Japanese anemones; a small pond; …

Rereading: Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Photos: 1. My own. 2. Klovharu, or Haru, Tove & Tuulikka’s atoll-shaped island on the Gulf of Finland. Photo: Per Olov Jansson © Moomin Characters™. 3. Tove Jansson. Photo: Per Olov Jansson © Moomin Characters™  “Jonna had a happy habit of waking each morning as if to a new life which stretched before her straight through to evening, clean, untouched, rarely shadowed by yesterday’s worries and mistakes.” I‘ve wanted to re-read Fair Play ever since I read Denise’s beautiful response to it at the start of the year (you can read my original thoughts from back in 2007 here). And, as I knew it would be, it was an afternoon well spent. Reading Tove Jansson is like drinking a glass of the clearest, iced water: purifying, refreshing, invigorating. Fair Play is a book about art and love, and how to bring those two together to make a life. Except in Jansson, art is always given its due as both work and play: there is no art without work. Famous for her children’s books about the Finn Family …

On rereading

“For me rereading is the litmus test of a work of art” Edna O’Brien. “We finish a book and return to it years later to see what we might have missed, or the ways in which time or age have affected our understanding.” ‘Reading Like a Writer’, Francine Prose I would love to reread more than I do. I watch the way my seven-year-old daughter reads — returning to old favourites again and again, sometimes going back to the start of a series as soon as she reaches the end — and I remember the deep pleasure of reading a book over and over until it is as familiar as a dear friend. But it’s hard, as an adult, to make the time to reread. The piles of books that I want to read — both virtual & literal: by my bed, in the loft room, on the shelves at the end of the kitchen — seem to grow exponentially. There’s a strange pressure to read the next thing, or the latest thing, or the classic …

Notebook: two journeys

25 October. The journey, nightmare long. 11ish before we set out; 3.30 by the time we’d covered the 140 miles to Castle Drogo. Driving past Stonehenge — seeing it for the first time — and how close you are. First a pattern of people in the distance, ring-fenced it turned out, a circle of black figures against green field. The stones themselves, ancient, humping — lower to the ground, more worn than I had known. The road passes close — the traffic jam seemingly just people gazing at the stones. Green. Hills and rolling valleys. Sheep: white and brown. South Somerset, & then Devon. Castle Drogo and the sun low in the sky. Light grazing the autumnal trees as the little ones run through the gardens. Vague echoes of being here as a child, running myself. Beech nuts out of their three-sided cupules. The castle shrouded in white for its restoration. Then another two hours: Dartmoor and Bodmin. Chimney stacks and wind turbines. The road faster now: up hills and down. Until, finally, in the …