Year: 2014

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 …

St Ives

Half-term, and we’ve escaped to St Ives. We make like the three bears and have porridge for breakfast, with a starter of grapefruit & a dessert of chocolate-spread covered toast. Mornings on one of the beaches, sipping coffees & watching the little ones mess about in the sand. Lunch back in the cottage that T insists has come straight from a fairytale: Cornish pasties or scrambled eggs, maybe leftovers from the night before. Afternoons, and B works while I read Littlenose — my own brother’s childhood favourite & staple of my babysitting years — to T & the Moose, and the littlest bear sleeps off his sandy adventures. A walk into town with one or other of the older children to buy provisions and visit the wonderful bookshops. Dinner together & then a round of Uno. Evenings: for more work and for reading. Mint tea before bed. The perfect routine.  

Girl Meets Boy

And it was always the stories that needed the telling that gave us the rope we could cross any river with. They balanced us high above any crevasse. They made us be natural acrobats. They made us brave. They met us well. They changed us. It was in their nature to. from ‘Girl Meets Boy‘ by Ali Smith It’s been such a good reading year; I’ve been pulled from one book straight into the next, hit after hit. But then, just like that, nothing was working. I started stalling part-way through books — the middle of A Sport and a Pastime; the start of Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World, which I was enjoying, but couldn’t commit to. Somehow the joy had gone. And once the joy had gone, I found less and less time to read. I re-read ‘The Lady with the Dog‘. Twice. I felt like I could keep re-reading Chekhov forever. But then I remembered Ali Smith, and the joy was back. How could I have forgotten the light, playful, exuberant texture of …

We love: Ramona Quimby

The terrible, horrible, dreadful, awful thing happened. Ramona threw up. She threw up right there on the floor in front of everyone…Nobody, nobody in the whole world was a bigger nuisance than someone who threw up in school. Until now she thought that Mrs Whaley had been unfair when she called her a nuisance, but now — there was no escaping the truth — she really was a nuisance, a horrible runny-nosed nuisance with nothing to blow her nose on…As she fell asleep, she decided she was a supernuisance, and a sick one at that. from ‘Ramona Quimby Age 8′ by Beverly Cleary T threw up at school last week. I picked her up from the school office where she was sitting ashen-faced, a bucket held between her knees. As we walked home together, we cheered ourselves up by talking about how it was just like when Ramona threw up at school. ‘Yes, but we don’t have any fruit flies,’ T pointed out. ‘And,’ she added, ‘I know I’m not really a supernuisance, because — …