Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sentimental Value

Never fear, fellow writers. This blog post does lead to an idea I have for a collection of short fiction. But until I get there, please allow me to indulge in a little sentimentality. Or should I rephrase that and say that I find myself in a reflective mood lately. I think I've mentioned before that my mother has recently celebrated her 91st birthday. Here she is with my lovely Dad (who, alas, is no longer with us) celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in July 1996.

I was with her other week, glasses of wine to hand and, as one does when mellow,  we began to discuss her wishes when she eventually passes away regarding items of sentimental value; money and valuables have already been taken into consideration.

The chat was not in any way morbid. We were enjoying reminiscing and chatting about the trivia we all collect through life that mean nothing to anyone else but we wouldn't dream of throwing out. Fis instance I already own the art nouveau epergne given to my grandmother by her best friend of that time who had married a conscientious objector. There's the jug (broken and patched together) which once belonged to my great-great grand-father and was used to collect milk from the farm down the lane when my aunt went to visit.
My mum with her older siblings, Nina and Eric.

On my mum's lading sits an empty carved wooden box we call the thunderstorm box. She knows I adore it. It has no monetary value whatsoever.It's Indian, made of an unidentifiable wood elaborate carvings on it, including a fierce oriental dragon devouring a deer in its jaws on the lid. (Probably a folk tale I do not recognise.)

It now stands on a table on my mum's landing. When I was a child, it stood on her dressing-table and woe betide anyone who moved it! Why? Well, my dad bought it in India while on active service in India. He sent it rolled in a carpet to mum whom he married in 1946 two years before they married. I also remember the Indian carpet as it lay on several hall floors until pounding feet, sunlight and moths did their worst. Anyway, the story goes that my mother took delivery of this huge parcel during one of the most violent thunderstorms she ever remembered. Dad added that he dispatched  it during the monsoon season. And here myth begins to take over from reality. Every time the box was moved - even to a new shelf or table, it caused a thunderstorm. If you ask me, I would say, I happened time and time again. I was there!

My maternal grandmother, Laura.
Over twenty years ago when I started to write fiction, I wrote a short story called The Dragon Box and it was published somewhere. (I no longer have a copy or remember the name of the publication.) It did not have anything to do with my life., It is not about childhood in any way. But it did have the box and a thunderstorm.

So you see - threads of fiction are always weaving themselves together in a fiction-writer's head. I'm now even thinking of writing  a collection of linked stories under the working title 'Sentimental Value.'

However, I do worry how the word "sentiment" and its derivatives has been denigrated over recent years. How often do we read a book, watch a movie or even listen to a piece of music only to dismiss it as "sentimental" as if it's a bad thing. Critics are always sniffy about sentimentality.

Sentimental. I found these synonyms. mawkish, cloying, sickly, saccharine, sugary, syrupy, romantic, heart and flowers, touching, pathetic etc etc

Is this how I'm feeling?  Surely not. What do you think? Have you a better description of what I'm talking about.





Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Back to Books

Anybody would think, from my recent blogs, that I had abandoned reading and writing. Not so. Last weekend was exceptional. Mind you, you'd have to be a Yorkshire person (whether by birth or adoption) or a fan of top-rank road cycling to appreciate what an totally wonderful and uplifting occasion it was. I was in our village and boy, what a party is was. It was even more of a spectacle on the hill-climb further up the dale, which the French organisers have now named "La Cote de Rosedale Abbey.  That's where hubby, Jon went with his video. It's on YouTube here. Only a few yards further up, by the cattle-grid it was heaving with people (as was the village.)



Anyway, enough of excitement. Back to more sedate delights.

I read a wide selection of books; my favourites being what is dubbed as 'literary' fiction, more often than not of the historical variety. I love the British landscape and even more so when history, whether it be ancient or more recent, But first, I'd like to mention a book I've recently enjoyed that is neither.  Tilly's Moonlight Fox by Julia Green will appeal to young people, especially girls who may resemble the girl I was between the ages of 8 and 12 with my pressed (then legal) pressed and dried  wild-flower collection, my doll's house, my love of the countryside and Victorian clothes. This was all before I became temporarily distracted by boys and eye-liner! Tilly is a somewhat solitary girl because she has just moved into a strange old house. Her parents, whilst loving and caring, don't want to worry her unduly but by not telling her all the facts why her mother's pregnancy is making her feel unwell, she becomes subject to fear and anxiety. It is an atmospheric, slightly ghostly delight.

And now for something completely different. I am a fan of Polly Samson's short stories and was therefore looking forward to her novel The Kindness. I was not disappointed. Polly Samson has excelled herself. The protagonist is Julian. A promising English student, he comes across volatile and slightly older Julia when he comes across her on the South Downs flying a falcon. Symbolic or what? He immediately falls head over heels in love with her, thereby abandoning his girlfriend Katie, whom he practically grew up with. He is also in love with his childhood idyllic countryside  home, Firdaws until a legal tangle means it has to go . He gives up his studies for Julia when she tells him he is pregnant. Julian becomes equally besotted with the resultant daughter Mira. And so Julian's and Julia's life begins to unravel, first when Mira becomes dangerously ill and Julian has the chance to own Firdaws and bring his wife and daughter to enjoy it. Only Julia hates it.. There are some heartbreaking scenes set in Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. When Julia and Mira are lost to him, Julia falls to pieces, alone is his beloved Firdaws where he can't bear the windows open to smell hid beloved jasmine. This is a many-faceted story of love, betrayal and recovery. Exquisitely written, as Julian's memories are stirred by what hwe sees and remembers, The Kindness is redolent with the sightds and smells of the country, the harm we do to each other when aiming to be kind, is a delight from start to finish. It is witty asnd funny even when atmospheric. Like me, you will find you are annoyed and pleased with Julian and Julia in turn. But you can't help loving Mira. With suerpising twists along the way, I hope The Kindness with enthral you too.

The publisher, Little Toller first came to my attention when they published Deer Island the second book by Neil Ansell, the fine writer I had got to know online. And so I was hooked by all their books. I have alreasdy enjoyed several of their wonderful volumes on landscape, flora and fauna including On Silbury Hill and The Ash Tree. They publish brand new books as well as reprints of classics, such as The Pattern Under The Plough and Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water.

I recently ordered Rena Gardiner: Artist and Painter. A new name to me, this talented Dorset-based artist and printmaker illustrated many guidebooks with her idiosyncratic linocuts, paintings and pastels. This stunning volume contains 200 illustrations, many of them previously unpublished. This volume, compiled by her advocates Julian Francis and Martin Andrews, can be read from cover to cover or dipped into whenever the soul needs refreshment.



I am also hugely looking forward to receiving my copy of Mermaids: a study of their mythology and folklore throughout the world. Mermaids have featured in my fiction and will most likely do so even more.


That's enough for now. And I still haven't mentioned any historical novels I have enjoyed recently! Happy reading.


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