Today marks the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere; the shortest day and longest night, and the slow turning of the seasonal tide. To me, it feels like relief and renewal. It is darkness and light, cosy and fresh. And it’s the sweet, hopeful promise of brighter days ahead.
Looking back at my old posts, it seems like one of my favourite things to talk about on this blog – apart from books – is how much I dislike winter. It’s kind of embarrassing how much I like to complain about grey skies and darkness and being cold, but it’s also just how I feel at this time of year and feelings tend to fuel what I write about.
As much as I might be a bit chillier, tearier, and grumpier than normal, I still think there’s lots to be thankful for and lots of good things to have come out of this autumn.
Here are some of my happy November things…
book it to me. I’ve had a bit of a funny reading year. I’ve read some great books, but I’ve also read a lot of books that have left me feeling kind of empty. I seemed to turn a corner in November, though. First, with Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. And then again with The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd.
comfort reads. I’m not much of a rereader. I keep books to reread because I’ve mastered the art of hoarding and lying to myself, but the chances are slim that I’ll actually get round to perusing their pages again. Something about autumn and winter, however, unleashes the need in me for something familiar and comforting. At the moment, I’m rereading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – I remembered being really taken with Eleanor’s character and that feeling has stood the test of time. The story is just as heartbreaking/warming as it was when I initially read it four years ago. And I’m also rereading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle – I’ve been craving some wisdom and perspective recently, and the second reading of this book is proving just as helpful as the first.
the princess diaries. On the subject of revisiting old favourites, rewatching The Princess Diaries (1&2) on a cold, rainy Saturday made my heart so happy it’s actually embarrassing. The feel-good, Y2K nostalgia was off the scale! Anyone who thinks I should grow up can…
rainy days in. See above point. As much as I love spending time outdoors – and am painfully aware from past experience that there is a fine line between taking time to rest and simply hiding away (God help me if I know where that fine line is hiding though) – sometimes I really do just need to hunker down for twenty-four hours and let the world outside do its own thing while I stay snuggled up inside. November this year saw its fair share of duvet days.
andor. Those duvet days were great for getting stuck into a few TV series on my watchlist. Andor, on Disney+, explores the backstory of Cassian Andor from the Star Wars spin-off movie Rogue One and was honestly amazing. Definitely one to watch!
you must be athen a laugh. This trip deserves its own post – and I promise, promise, promise I will write one – but all I’ll say for now is that a warm, sunny weekend in Athens spent wandering around ancient ruins and eating spanakopita (and chocolate hippo cakes) was a weekend well spent.
peas in a podcast. As well as bingeing my way through the spanakopita of Athens, November saw me binge-listening my way through In Writing with Hattie Crissell. I especially liked the episodes with Meg Mason, Graham Norton, and Elif Shafak. They’re really interesting insights into the worlds of each of the writers interviewed and go to show how varied the creative process is.
wingspan. I’ve become a little bit addicted to the digital version of the game Wingspan after it was recommended by a friend. It’s very chill whilst also being quite strategic, plus the artwork is stunning and, if they have it too, you can play against your friends online. I got the chance to play it IRL at The Board House in Crewkerne a few weeks back, which was really fun – but for ease of use the digital version wins hands down.
And now it’s December. The days are even shorter and the weather is even colder, but the world is all jingly and sparkly and bright and there’s lots to look forward to in the weeks ahead.
Does anyone else get to this point in the year and think ‘how has this happened so quickly?’. I swear it was only just April – maybe, at a push, May? And now, somehow, I’m supposed to believe it’s nearly the end of October – and believe that this happened naturally, without any time travelling sorcery being involved.
The signs of October are definitely all around. The nights are drawing in earlier, stretching out later; the leaves have swapped their bright, fresh greens for glistening bronzes and burnished golds, and are slowly, slowly raining to the ground; pumpkins are all over the place, speckling the world with splashes of neon orange; and I’m stocking up on chunky, oversized jumpers from charity shops like a squirrel after acorns in the forest (it’s an addiction, please send help).
I love the cosiness of the inside world and freshness of the outside world in autumn and winter, but spring and summer are my favourite seasons and I’m always sad to say goodbye. The urge to hibernate is real.
Lots happened over summer, as always. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot (don’t worry, crying is just one my main life skills). There were changes, big and small.
Here are a few high(and low)lights to my summer ’22.
29 going on 30. July marked the end of my third decade and the start of my fourth. I thought I’d feel okay about it, but it turns out I was only okay with it when it was a future thing and not an actually happening thing. Family and friends and a day spent by the sea distracted me from it all feeling too daunting, but I still do a kind of inner double take whenever my age comes up on a form or in conversation.
covid club. I was beginning to think I was one of the super immune, but it turns out I had just been super lucky and coronavirus finally caught up with me in June. And it got me real good! My lungs and immune system were very unhappy about being put back to work after a two and a half year cold/flu break.
hay there. The start of September saw me bankrupt myself and unable to stop eating Welsh cakes in Hay-on-Wye. There were so. many. bookshops and so much yummy food and loads of interesting independent, non-booky shops, plus the scenery around the town was beautiful – basically I didn’t want to leave, even if my bank account wanted me to get outta there pronto.
tenerife. Flight butterflies. The joy of being able to travel and of seeing clouds from above again. Sunsets across the Atlantic. Kayak trips spent spotting dolphins and turtles (and trying not to panic about the 50 metres of sea stretching down beneath us and the very big, dark clouds bubbling above us). Shimmering black sands. A looming, thankfully sleepy, volcano. Siam park (belly laughs, belly screams, factor 50 suncream, long queues, the ever present fear of a watery death, prayers to any god that might listen, very very very bad hair, body dysmorphia run wild, constant swimming costume worries, tears, more belly laughs, more belly screams – it was fun and traumatic all at the same time). Crazy golf, basically crazy hockey due to my lack of golfing skills. Souvenir shops filled with postcards and keychains and anklets. Bustling restaurants. Sea food paella, messy plates. Ice cream, ice cream everywhere. And siestas. So many siestas.
feeling hot hot hot. There’s nothing like the weather to keep British people entertained and there has definitely been a lot of it this year. This summer was the hottest on record, with temperatures of over 40C being recorded for the first time in the UK. I feel guilty admitting what I’m about to say because a) I’m fully aware that the heatwave fits into a negative and, ultimately, terrifying pattern of climate change and b) I know I’m very lucky to live somewhere I could make the most of the heat rather than just endure it, buuuuut I loved the crystal clear sunshine and long, lazy days and sea swims and blue skies and meals outside and the break from umbrellas, raincoats, wellies, mud, floods and grey, grey, grey.
new job. I started working for the National Trust in June and I love it. I get to work for an organisation I have always admired, at an amazing place with lovely colleagues and I get to spend loads of time outdoors. Plus there’s a secondhand bookshop! There are certainly hard days, but most mornings I feel very luck to work where I do.
So, cheers summer ’22. You were great (apart from the covid bit). I miss you already (apart from the covid bit. Always apart from this).
We found the lane to hell on a beautiful day in May.
Carved out of the earth by thousands upon thousands of pairs of feet and hooves, and countless twists of wheels, Hell Lane near Symondsbury, Dorset, is one of many ancient holloways hidden in the patchworked countryside of southern England. One of many, and one of the best (although as a local, I am very, very biased).
We started our journey to Hell Lane at Symondsbury Estate, the sun shining bright and the world bursting with flowers and colour and the promise of lots of lazy summer days ahead. We made our way through the estate, through the chocolate-box village, and up along Shutes Lane. Step by step, the lane transformed from pretty country path to a lush subterranean, otherworldly scar.
Plumes of feathery ferns nodded as we passed and late bluebells speckled the verge, hiding in the shade. All around was painted with a thin veil of bright, spring green. The air was still and quiet and cool, filled with ancient memories.
Carvings bloomed in the weathered walls; some plain, some whimsical, others intricate and haunting. Stony faces peered out from the earth, so many it was hard to shake the feeling of being watched along our way.
Webs of tree roots crisscrossed through the ground and clawed along the air. Ivyfalls framed the way ahead, blooming and spilling down towards the path.
The path lead upwards and slowly the world melted back to the cosy, traditional countryside of Dorset.
We took a left towards Colmers Hill. Sheep stared as we wandered passed, their faces as stern as the one’s carved along Hell Lane just metres away, but thankfully not as spooky. They chewed and baaed and scattered as we picked out our way across the grass. Sometimes, we baaed back.
The walk to the top of the hill was steep, but the view was worth the achy legs.
The descent back towards Symondsbury was much kinder on our legs, and the snip-snip of sun-baked grass brushing on our boots replaced the chorus of baas from the climb.
Back at the estate, we were greeted with a very cute and friendly face.
Well, what trip to hell would be complete without a meeting with a horned and hoofed creature along the way?
I have taken a lot of photos of books over the last few years. Some of them bad, some of them good, and some that I’m actually really proud of.
I love books (surprise, surprise). And I love photography. So a combination of them is a match made in heaven for me. My booktography style has evolved over the years, mostly through trial and error and chance. I’m sure it will continue to shift and change in the years to come, but there are things I’m consistently drawn to when I take photos and I thought it might be interesting to share them.
My favourite thing to utilise is light and shadow. I don’t think you can beat natural light for pictures, which means I end up taking most of my photographs outside. And taking most of my photographs outside has resulted in me becoming (perhaps worryingly) obsessed with the shape shifting silhouettes of the plants (and other random things – lawnmowers, tables, a passing cat) by the paving slabs in my garden. It means I’m at the mercy of clouds and rain (living in England means I’m at their mercy a lot a lot), but I kind of like the ephemeral nature of it and maybe also the tiny adrenaline rush of getting a good shot against all the odds (what can I say, life is short and you’ve gotta live it on the edge).
Sometimes (so so many times) the weather just won’t play ball and I’m left to hunt down interesting backdrops that compliment the cover I’m shooting. This can be surprisingly hard and often means I have to edit the photos to within an inch of their lives to fix things like lighting issues and colour clashes – which isn’t my favourite thing to do, but the results can be unexpectedly good. And sometimes it’s actually really fun to mess around with filters, saturations, and contrasts. I can end up with ten different versions of the same photo, which then leaves me with the tricky, but also kinda fabulous, dilemma of picking which one to use.
I tend to take photos on both my phone and my camera. I like having copies on both to fall back on (I’m not sure what disaster I think will happen, but it makes me feel better so I’m sticking with it). Sometimes, though, the perfect shot (shadow, cat, pretty background) presents itself when I only have my phone to hand – the photos never turn out quite as clear, but I’d rather get a nice photo than lose the opportunity. You can edit an okay quality picture, you can’t edit one that doesn’t exist in the first place. (Note to self – remember this when it comes to writing.)
Because I err on the “take lots and pray one of them is good” side of photo taking, I have lots of book pics that never get used. I photograph pretty much every book I read, but I don’t post about anywhere near all of them which makes for a lot of images that never see the light of day. And although that might not be super efficient of me, it’s kind of nice to have a visual scrapbook of my reading list to look back on. And hey, one day I might want to include the book in a list-style post so who’s the efficient one now? *tries to look like it was the plan all along*
Every photographer needs an assistant now and again, and I’m lucky to be able to count on my cats to come to the rescue should it look like I need help with a photo. They’re on hand to make sure I get the purrfect angles and lighting, although it’s pawhaps suspicious how often this help coincides with breakfast/dinner time.
And, sometimes, even the chickens like to get involved.
Here’s to many more book photos, and to trials, errors, and chance.
Do you take photos for your blog? What are your favourite techniques? Has your style changed over the years?
The call of Greek mythology and their retellings is a hard call to resist.
The ancient mix of heady dramas, swashbuckling adventures, love and hatred, messy mortals, conniving gods, magical creatures and tragic, twisting fates is dangerously intoxicating. And the sheer wealth of literature, old and new, adapted from these tales means that a casual dip of a toe into these mythological waters can very easily turn into a deep dive.
Narrated by Patroclus, the story follows him from his childhood as an awkward, exiled prince in Phthia, through his blossoming romance with Achilles, and then to the battlefields of Troy.
Miller’s writing is beautiful. It’s lyrical and dreamlike, even when mired in blood and gore. She balances the threads, twists and turns of the story in a way that feels effortless, just like in Circe (which I read and also loved last year).
“Thetis stood in the doorway, hot as a living flame. Her divinity swept over us all, singeing our eyes, blackening the broken edges of the door. I could feel it pulling at my bones, sucking at the blood in my veins as if it would drink me.”
Achilles wasn’t a character I was expecting to sympathise with but Miller captures, through Patroclus’ (admittedly rose-tinted) eyes, a tenderness in him that is initially strange but ultimately mesmerizing. Their relationship is hypnotic and hauntingly bittersweet from the start. I found myself hoping they would somehow sidestep the messy web of kings and honour and war, and sail off into the sunset, happily ever after.
“That night I lie in bed beside Achilles. His face is innocent, sleep-smoothed and sweetly boyish. I love to see it. This is his truest self, earnest and guileless, full of mischief, but without malice.”
But kings and honour and war come calling and there is no escape, no happily ever after.
The sunsoaked, rosy-fingered peace of the book’s first half gives way to a bloodsoaked, spear-punctured second half. Tension hangs heavy over the story, murmuring painfully away like brittle autumn leaves whipping in the wind, ready and waiting, waiting to fall.
Achilles knows his fate, has chosen it. Neither know Patroclus’ and it’s devastating to watch unfold.
“I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heart’s lost blood… I rose and rubbed my limbs, slapped them awake, trying to ward off a rising hysteria. This is what it will be, every day, without him. I felt a wide-eyed tightness in my chest, like a scream. Every day, without him.”
By the end, I couldn’t put the book down. The pain was cruelly addictive, fresh and sharp despite being three thousand years in the making.
I didn’t want it to end.
“It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.”
After The Song Of Achilles, I suspect it will be a long time before my reading heart finds peace again.
If you’ve ever found yourself lost down the TED talk rabbit hole, the chances are you will have come across one of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks. His most famous – Do Schools Kill Creativity? – has been viewed over 73 million times on TED’s website alone, plus over 20 million times on YouTube, since it was first published in 2006. If you haven’t watched it, you really should. It’s an informative, laugh out loud, and thought provoking talk, still frighteningly relevant 16 years after it was given.
His book, The Element, expands on the themes in this talk, in a way that is just as engaging and compelling. Every page is a goldmine of inspiring stories from people who found their life’s calling and flourished, often in spite of pressures from their loved ones and society in general.
Robinson’s central argument is a rally cry against the traditional belief that being academic is the only (and highest) form of intelligence. Most of us intuitively know that this idea is bullshit, but it’s refreshing to see it dismantled in such a thorough and eloquent way. Robinson makes and supports his case with a lightness of touch but richness of detail that is hard to fault.
“The view goes something like this: We are all born with a fixed amount of intelligence. It’s a trait, like blue or green eyes, or long or short limbs. Intelligence shows itself in certain types of activity, especially in math or our use of words. It’s possible to measure how much intelligence we have through pencil-and-paper tests, and to express this as a numerical grade. That’s it.
Put bluntly, I hope this definition of intelligence sounds as questionable as it is.”
We’re taught the hierarchy of subjects and careers from such a young age that unlearning it, shedding the skin of it, can take years, decades, whole lifetimes even.
On the topic of age, The Element is a source of hope for anyone who feels like they’ve missed their chance to find/pursue what they love. In my own life, I’ve spent a lot of time despairing that I’m a failure rather than appreciating that I’m learning (and unlearning). Life is full of twists and turns. We all grow at different rates, and this is before you even factor in things like the personal/socio-economic environments we’re raised/live in and the opportunities that happen to come our way.
“While physical age is absolute as a way of measuring the number of years that have passed since you were born, it is purely relative when it comes to health and quality of life. Certainly, we are all getting older by the clock. But I know plenty of people who are the same age chronologically and generations apart emotionally and creatively.”
The Element felt like a particularly timely read for me. It was a reassuring pat on the back as well as a gentle kick up the bum. We only get one life, so we may as well try to forge ones we enjoy.
If, like me, you feel in need of a little bit of clarity and a lot of inspiration, then I can highly recommend The Element as a place to start.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes retells the legends of the Trojan war through the eyes of the women and goddesses ensnared in its bloodthirsty web.
We are taken under each character’s wings and given a glimpse into their hearts; from Iphigenia – daughter of Agamemnon – as she realises she is being taken to her death rather than her wedding, to Eris – the goddess of strife – as she discovers the golden apple of discord. Haynes conjures a vivid connection between reader and subject, one that is almost painful to break as each part draws to a pause or a close.
It was a delight to explore more thoroughly the stories of the women who (for the most part) get brushed aside in the Iliad and the Odyssey and I would strongly recommend A Thousand Ships to anyone looking to immerse themselves in the messy but beguiling world of Greek mythology from a fresh perspective.
“Sing, Muse, he said, and I have sung.I have sung of men.I have sung of gods and monsters, I have sung of stories and lies.I have sung of death and of life, of joy and of pain.I have sung of life after death. And I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold. I have picked up the old stories and I have shaken them until the hidden women appear in plain sight.”
I wrote my last blog post in the depths of a lush, green spring last year and now somehow it’s January 2022 and warm, sunny days surronded by bluebells and blossom and ivy feel like a distant dream from another universe. Lots has happened between then and now. I’ve started writing and stopped writing so many posts in the time that’s passed – my drafts folder is embarrassingly full. And although there’s part of me that wants to patch over the cavernous hole of time and words on my blog with a post to match the size of that gap, there’s also a part of me that just wants to draw a line under the last seven months and start afresh.
So, here’s to a 2022 filled with happiness, growth, and words words words.
The gridlocked cars on the other side of the road stretched in a long, shimmering, heat-hazy line and I couldn’t help but smile a cheeky smile.
The road on our side was clear.
They were bound for the Weymouth beach, we were destined for a chapel in the woods.
I feel the draw and pull and spell of the sea in my blood pretty much every day and I know I am incredibly lucky to live so near the coast, but on a sun drenched UK Bank Holiday weekend you won’t find me anywhere near the sand. Last weekend, my heart wanted lush green leaves and light dappled bluebells and pretty bird song and burbling streams and old chapel ruins with ivy spilling down the walls and a wash, a wave, a shiver of peace through my veins.
After getting a bit lost due to me mixing up St Luke’s Chapel on Ashley Chase with Chapel Coppice in Abbotsbury (it was the nicest and prettiest lost I’ve ever been), Patrick and I eventually made it to the right woodlands (thank you to Bellenie’s Bakehouse for the directions and the yummy pasties).
The road to the walking track was twisty and bumpy, but stunning. We parked up when we got to the end of the public road and set off to the chapel on foot.
Shaggy grass, patchworked across the hills, rippled in the wind. Branches of gnarly trees, knotted from a lifetime of sea breezes, pointed us on our way. Constellations of salt-misted bluebells twinkled beside the path as we walked by. Canopies of leaves shimmied above our heads and showered our feet with dancing shadows.
It felt like heaven.
The chapel was bigger than I’d expected. It was beautiful and peaceful and eery; a muddle of brick, statues, and gravestones haunting earth, ivy, and trees.
And the quiet.
It was the sort of hush that sinks into your bones and untangles all the noise in your head and all the worry in your heart. We only saw one other pair of walkers the entire time we were there, and that was when were almost back at the car. For most of the journey, we had only the cows in the fields beside the path for company.
We were so close to crowds and crowds of people but so, so far.
And the traffic on our journey home? Well, the universe got me back for my cheeky smile as we’d zoomed passed the morning’s traffic jams…