novemberings

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 power of now by Eckhart Tolle

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.

Here’s to a happy, twinkly, and very merry month!

time travelling

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).

Here’s to a cosy, golden autumn.

The Lane to Hell

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.

Hell Lane, holloway in Symondsbury, Dorset.

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?

Booktography

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).

find my review here.
find my review here.
find my review here.

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.

find my review here.

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.)

the devil and the dark water on a deck chair in the sunshine

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?

afresh

Well, it’s been a while.

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.

bye bye Pippin

You may have noticed there’s been a blog name change.

It’s a decision that’s been months in the making. I always thought I would want to write under the name Pippin, always thought it helped me to shake off my every day world and focus, always liked how it connected me to a time before I felt self-conscious and anxious about every little thing, a time when getting things Goldilocks-perfect didn’t matter, when I could just try and experiment and see where things led without having an existential crisis.

Now, I don’t think I want to shake off my every day world. I want my every day world and my writing world to be the same. I want them to complement each other and grow together.

So I’m shaking off my childhood nickname and stepping into my real life name shoes – Joanna or, most commonly, Jo.

It feels a little bit weird, but it’s a good weird.

So it’s bye bye to Pippin.

Although Pippin is still most definitely my spirit hobbit…

ready steady colour

The last ten months of lots of staying in has meant lots of finding things to keep busy at home – ideally things that don’t involve staring forlornly at the ceiling or climbing up the walls. And colouring fits that keeping busy bill pretty much perfectly.

If, like me, you’re not massively into colouring books but still want to have a go, I’ve found a few *free* printable colouring pages that are too pretty not to share…

Examples of printable colouring page designs by Emma J Shipley

Looking for a walk on the mystical and wild side? Then look no further than Emma J Shipley’s beautiful printables. I absolutely love the ‘Lynx’ and ‘Zambezi’ designs (which are shown in the photo above).

Are you Moomin crazy like me? You’ll love these illustrations.

Calling all Disney fans! Crayola have some fun designs, from Snow White to the adorable Grogu.

Looking for a more antique and unusual vibe? Check out the #ColorOurCollections initiative, set up by the New York Academy of Medicine. Museums and libraries from all around the world have created colouring pages using art and illustrations from their collections. There are loads and loads of really interesting designs to choose from!

I love this vintage fan colouring page by The Fan Museum in London. Liberty have some gorgeous and intricate designs here. And if you’re an Emma Bridgewater fan, you’ll love these three pages.

Happy colouring!

things to love about january

January isn’t my favourite month. Every year, it feels like a slog; a time to be endured rather than enjoyed. And January 2021? Well, a still raging pandemic and a UK wide lockdown are just the icky icing and mouldy cherry on top of an already pretty rubbish month cake.

But oh well.

In an effort to combat a bout of the January blues, I had a sit down with a notebook and a cup of tea and brainstormed some things to love about this month.

sales. I really don’t like the mantra of “shop till you drop” but I really do like saving money. So if I can pick up some bargains and those bargains are actually things that I need, or are actually things that will make me smile and bring me sustained happiness, or are things that will bring a smile to someone I love’s face, then I’m all in favour. Sale me up!

ice cold tap water. Maybe this is just me, and I get it’s a bit weird, but I love being able to pour a glass of super cold water straight from the tap. Who wants lukewarm when you can have ice cold without having to put any effort in?

it’s named after an ancient Roman god. Although quite a few months are named after Roman gods/goddesses, Janus was the only god to have been blessed with two faces. Having two meant that he could look into the past and the future all at once, which is a skill I think we all wish we could share sometimes. He was the god of beginnings, transitions, journeys, passages, gates, doorways, and time. Here’s to Janus! *raises a glass*

hot chocolates. Cold weather means that the calories in cups of hot chocolate go on a well earned holiday to somewhere sunny and warm (this is totally science*) so you can have as many as you like without fear at this time of year. I think they go to the Maldives (maybe the Seychelles?) for the winter months, but it’s not important where the calories go it’s just important that they really, truly** go. More people should know. Spread the word.

*maybe

**possibly, perhaps

layers. Thermals, knitwear, leggings, fluffy socks, coats, gloves, scarves – there’s so much to wear and I actually kinda like it. I basically look like the Michelin man every time I leave my house at the moment, but I’m at peace with that.

days getting longer. The sun is rising a little earlier and setting a little later every day here in the Northern hemisphere and that’s something worth celebrating! Slowly and steadily, spring is on its way.

snowdrops. I love snowdrops. They’re so pretty and dainty and magical. They brighten up the grey-brown world of winter with pearly seas of whiteness when they appear and for that reason alone I will always love them. They’re arrival also means that daffodils and crocuses and bluebells and blossom aren’t far away. For such teeny tiny flowers, they pack an almighty punch of hope.

Snowdrops on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset.

mini eggs and hot cross buns appearing in the shops. Everyone else is probably fed up with chocolate and carbohydrates after Christmas, but I’m really not. Easter is coming! *claps with childish excitement*

hibernation. Hibernation is basically government approved this year! Although I desperately, desperately want to leave the house more than once a day and desperately, desperately want to be able to see all the people I love – don’t we all *cries* – I’m also trying to make the most of this enforced downtime. Rest and relaxation is much needed by all of us after the year we’ve had.

vaccines. This is a very 2021 specific reason to love January, but I had to include it because knowing that there’s an end in sight to at least some of this madness in brings me so much happiness. My Grandma had her first Covid-19 vaccination yesterday and I actually did a little jiggly wriggly dance of joy when I heard the news. I can’t wait for my parents to have theirs and I’m excited for my turn when it comes. It feels like hugs are on the horizon!

What do you love about January? Do you like, or dislike, anything on my list? What’s keeping your spirits up this month?

sister act

I think we can all agree that the last ten months have been relentlessly weird, frequently upsetting, and pretty fucking exhausting. (excuse my language.) Inevitably, we’ve been locked down for a third time here in the UK and although it’s scary – weirdly, I’m finding this one scarier than the ones before – it’s for the best.

*closes eyes, tries to think only of sunshine and rainbows and baskets filled with kittens*

To get me through lockdown part three, I’m trying to remind myself of some of the things that helped me feel better during the first. And top of the “feel better” list is my sister (she deserves a medal for putting up with me) and, specifically, all the weird conversations we had over jigsaw puzzles back in March and April. When I was feeling organised, which wasn’t very often woops, I kept a note of some of the stranger snippets we (somehow) came up with and rereading them brought a much needed smile to my face.

Here are a few of the random things we said during Lockdown: The Original…

on homemade wine. ‘It definitely warms the oesophagus.’

on women’s troubles. ‘I felt like a fat dragon yesterday. Today I feel great.’

on not wanting to be distracted from completing a puzzle section. ‘Wait! Fish assembly is going on here!’

on Frida Kahlo puzzles. ‘The monobrow piece is going to be the best one to find.’

on puzzling in general. ‘With that section I just sort of jabbed pieces at it and hoped for the best.’

on memories. ‘Ah, the great crumble debacle of 2019.’

on panic buying. ‘I just felt like we needed a cauliflower in the house.’

on mangoes. ‘This is Mildred the mango tree.’

on death. ‘I accidentally murdered Mildred.’

on redemption. ‘My avocado is coming up! That slightly heals the pain of losing Mildred.’

on tough love. ‘I’ll stop mocking you when you start singing in tune.’

The next few weeks will be tough – just thinking that this will last until at least the middle of February makes my heart sink so, so low – but I am really looking forward to finding out what nonsense Sarah and I will come up with over a fresh round of puzzles…

Double trouble, way back when. The last ten months have seen our faces revert to these expressions a worrying number of times…

What’s bringing a smile to your face this January? What are your happy (or, happyish) original lockdown memories? Have you got any tips/plans for this one?