Three Books My Small Girl Loves.

My Small Girl is six years old. She loves reading, probably more now than she ever will again for the rest of her life. She still appreciates the newness of it. She takes great pride in reading a menu and delights in telling me I’m parked under a NO PARKING sign. I watched through glass yesterday as she got left behind at the shallow end of the swimming pool because she was engrossed in reading the safety notices.

It takes patience to read with her. She wants to read for herself and wants to know what every single word means.

It is also a huge joy.

And, my Small Girl has great taste.

I want to show you three gorgeous books we have adored.

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara.

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I followed the creation of this beautiful book on Instagram (@oharasisters). For months I watched in awe as characters and detailed backgrounds emerged from simple sketches to exquisite illustrations.

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The writer and illustrator are sisters, living in London, of English and Polish heritage.

The book has quite a dark atmosphere and, to be honest, I feared Small Girl might not like it.

Hortense is a young girl who lives in a cold, snowy place with ‘dark and wolfish woods.’

Though she was kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing.

Hortense does not like her shadow. It bothers her, following her everywhere, until she finds a way to escape it.

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My Small Girl, at this point, was completely transfixed. There are tiny clues in the illustrations to what’s about to happen and I could almost hear the cogs of her brain whirring as she tried to figure it out.

This is a sophisticated story, I think, but one which younger children are more likely to appreciate than those who have reached the dreaded Age of Not Believing. My daughter happily accepted that a shadow might be chased away, and might return to save the day.

Overall, a quirky and quietly empowering read for little ones.

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson.

Somehow, despite raising three other readers, the Moomintrolls had until now escaped our notice. Written in 1948, this one was re-released last year in this sweet collector’s edition with, presumably, enough fanfare to finally come to my, ahem, Santa’s attention.

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Quirky doesn’t go far enough to describe the Moomins. The menagerie of beings in this book is little short of absurd, but completely adorable. Moominmamma and Moominpappa, together with Moomintroll, the Hemulen, Snufkin, the Snork Maiden, Moomintroll and anyone else who wanders by, live in a little roundy house hidden in a Finnish forest.

They pack up picnics and go on adventures in much the same way as The Famous Five but with far less predictable results. In this story they discover a hobgoblin’s hat with magical powers which, despite their best efforts to put the hat out of action, leads to all manner of bother and, ultimately, a dramatic happy ending.

The best laughs, and there were many, came from the mixed-up words of Thingumy and Bob, or Bingumy and Thob as we re-named them.

I found the old-fashioned language a bit of a strain for reading aloud but happily the Small Girl took over for every third page or so.

I bookmarked one paragraph which struck me as something remarkable. The Moomins are gathered and taking turns to make one wish each, for anything at all. Moominmamma wishes to remove Moomintroll’s sadness. Sniff wishes for a boat of his own… it goes on quite a bit…

Then the Snork makes his wish:

“A machine for finding things out,” said the Snork, “a machine that tells you whether things are right or wrong, good or bad.”
“That’s too difficult,” said the Hobgoblin, shaking his head. “I can’t manage that.”

In 1948, a smartphone, you see, was beyond even Tove Jansson’s imagination.

Naturama by Michael Fewer with Melissa Doran.

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This large format, hardback book is a real treasure. There was always an hour in the school week that was called simply Nature, or Nature Studies when they started to get fancy about it. We made rubbings of tree barks and stuck leaves into our Nature copy and sprouted cress seeds and all that sort of thing. Naturama is a celebration of plants and wildlife indigenous to Ireland. It’s organised seasonally and covers everything from which tree is used to make hurleys (Ash) to what year grey squirrels arrived in Ireland (1911).

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We have only read the pages relevant to Winter so far but I’m looking forward to turning back to the start of the book and beginning again with Spring.

If you live in Ireland, this is a beautiful and informative reference book to keep on a coffee table. It will draw your attention to, and put a name on, all the little wonders you pass by everyday. I love it.

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That’s pretty close to the view from my window at this very moment.

I’m up the walls at the moment, plotting and planning a big project. All will be revealed. Unless it all goes horribly wrong in which case you will all have to deal with my mental breakdown. Please bear with me if I’m slow replying to comments. Trust me, I LOVE reading them.

Getting back on the horse.

‘I’ve been showing off, it’s a soothing feeling.’
Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day.

I have fallen off the blogging horse and it was that line, from a book about grabbing life by the horns, ironically enough, which threw me.

It made me think about what I’m doing here. I hadn’t considered before that much of the pleasure I’ve taken from blogging has, in fact, been due to the soothing effects of showing off. I’m not certain that my garden, over-run as it is with dandelions, or my amateur attempts at cooking, however excellent my cheese toasties, are good enough to merit boasting about.

Besides that, for a stay-at-home parent the school holidays demand a different rhythm. There is the pleasure of time spent helping the Small Girl with her Country House Sticker Book, you can probably guess that book was really a little present for myself, oh, the joy of it, and playing Paper Dolls and doing things for which there is no internet link, like picking bowls of white currants together and chasing butterflies.

The summer holidays also bring the complementary penance of never having ten minutes alone which makes any type of writing an almost impossible endeavour.

What little quiet time I have carved out has been spent at work. The highlights:

Tragically tardy, here is a link to my July edition of Cooking The Books. I chose a light and frivolous book, ideal for a bit of mindless beach reading. While the title may be less than appetising, the recipe, mind you, is seriously delicious. No-one has eaten my quiche (my mother’s quiche, to be exact) without asking for the secret to it’s light and, dare I say, frivolous texture.IMG_7848

Sarah Healy tweeted that my article on her book was a ‘candid, beautiful review’ which gave me quite the thrill. A review of the review, eh? It meant a lot to me. Click here to read about The Sisters Chase.IMG_7800 (2)

To the cohort of Persephone fans out there, thank you again for inviting me to join your ranks. I contacted the wonderful women at Persephone Books and they sent me reams of information and some gorgeous photos for this article: Though she be but little, she is fierce!IMG_8079If you haven’t yet come across Persephone Books, can I plead with you take a look? They are very special.

Last week was enjoyably spent testing recipes from Valeria Necchio‘s gorgeous new cookbook, Veneto. This, truly, was a labour of love. Our happiest days of newly-wedded bliss were lived in the Veneto. Teenage Son, my eldest, was born there and cut his teeth on the region’s crusty bread. It was a shock to realise how long ago it was but also how much the food, and a glass or two of Prosecco, still has the power to bring it all back. Click here to read my review of Veneto.

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So tardy am I with this post that the time has come round to tell you about the August edition of Cooking The Books. Having taken the light and frivolous route for July, I opted this time for a classic. Both the book, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and the dish, Crabe Mexicaine, are mouth-watering. Click here for a sneak preview of Eat Like Hemingway.

Still, I am circling that horse and thinking it looks a bit too high for me. If I could only do it half-heartedly, without revealing too much of my self, it would be grand. But I can’t. I’ve decided to take a short break, to enjoy the summer, fleeting as it is, and to live life for a while without forming it into sentences in my head.

Follow me on Bookwitty for book reviews, book lists, books cooked and all things bookish.
Follow me on Instagram for inevitable spillage of words and pictures.

Thanks for sticking with me,
Lynda.

Sequels and Spin-offs: 11 ways to re-live Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice.

The very first published piece of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, which I suspect may have been the first of any fan fiction, was a book called Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton. Having no small number of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs on my own shelves, I had a notion of collating a list. Holy Moly, I had no idea how many were out there! A girl could spend her entire life reading nothing else. Darcy and Elizabeth grow old, or don’t, have two sons, have five daughters, have affairs with Bingley and Charlotte respectively (yes, in that order), battle zombies, are transformed into Antipodean animals, and, most horrifying of all, agree to take part in a reality TV show.

My girl reading Pride and Prejudice.

Meanwhile, my lovely twelve-year-old daughter has been reading the real thing. She ran upstairs last night to tell me, through the bathroom door (why must big announcements always be made through the bathroom door), that she had finished it.

‘It was so exciting! At the end! It all happened so fast! After all the long stories! With Wickham and everything! And then Jane and Bingley! And then Elizabeth and Darcy! It was like wham, wham, wham, The End! But what will I read now?’

Like thousands before her…

Eldest daughter helped me design a solution to finding your ideal dose of Darcy. For rapid reviews of these books, click hereSequels and Spin-offs to Pride and Prejudice.

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English, Paper One.

A super-quickie post today as I am on official exam taxi service duty with a fairly frantic schedule and extremely stressed customers. IMG_7548

My Small Girl made my day by handing me, for the first time, a little note of her own composition. Many years ago, I framed a note that Teenage Son gave me. A couple of years later I stuck a note from his little sister into the same frame. The third note followed about six years ago and now, finally, I have the complete set. One of the many reasons I love these notes, in this frame, is that they all have a bonus on the reverse side.

From youngest up:

Small Girl: I love you Mum.
Reverse: Shoes.

The girl is succinct, accurate and cleverly references our shared appreciation of good shoes.

Middle Daughter: Mommy you are the best Mammy in the world.
Reverse: lovely illustration of Mammy and girl in a heart.

A complete sweetheart who knows how to fit a world of love into one perfect sentence.

Teenage Daughter: I love you (with garden scene and bird in the sky).
Reverse: To mama, I had a lovey day. ps there is a pachr (picture) on the back

My kind, appreciative girl who has been artistically inclined from the beginning.

Teenage Son: Opin (open, the note was folded)
Top Sucrt (secret).
Tod Toyday Todoay
I say taic (thank) yoyu for letine (letting) me sleep wit you.
Reverse:Form (from) Markk
I love you Mammy. (accompanied by his habitually armless people)

This boy just came home from English, Paper One. He is, honestly, one of the smartest people I know. I just have to hope his examiner can see what I see.

 

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Does that explain why my nerves are shredded?

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‘The book doctor will see you now.’

Adding a final flourish to PJ Lynch's art at Lismore Castle.

That’s what they said, seriously, and Small Girl got such a kick out of it. Let me explain.

We traveled, on excellent advice from Welovelittlethings, to the Towers and Tales Story Festival at Lismore Castle.

Traditional shop front. Lismore. Ireland.

Lismore is a quiet, picture book quaint, Irish village smack bang in the middle of exactly nowhere. Apparently, the townsfolk were ecstatic in 2015 when they got a bus shelter.

Defunct shop window. Lismore, Ireland.

You do, however, get the impression that it was a much busier place in a long bygone era.

Mc Grath's butcher shop, Lismore, Ireland.

In actual fact, Lismore has a cathedral, which makes it a city, albeit a remarkably tiny one.

Lismore Castle. Co. Waterford, Ireland.

Lismore Castle is a real, proper castle, built in 1170 as a bishop’s palace before becoming home to Sir Walter Raleigh (yes, he of the potatoes, the tobacco, and the cloak on the puddle story). On Raleigh’s demise the castle was taken by Elizabethan colonist, Richard Boyle. Boyle’s son Robert was THE Robert Boyle, as in ‘father of modern day chemistry‘ and Boyle’s Law Boyle.  Since 1775, the castle has been owned by the Duke of Devonshire (not the exact same duke, well, let’s hope not). The Astaires, The Mitford sisters, Cecil Beaton and JFK are just a few of the names in the guest book. No matter what age you are, this place is built from the stuff of fantasy. I just checked out the website; you have to apply for a secret code to access an inner, concealed website where the rental prices are. I didn’t go that far for fear my credit card would have shriveled up in horror.

Lismore Castle, Waterford, Ireland.

The castle is not usually open to the public so it was a real treat to get a peek inside. It was, mind you, a well-guarded peek. While the guest writers (Michael Morpurgo, Lauren Child, Ryan Tubridy and more) were staying in the castle we lesser mortals were confined to the courtyard.

To keep us from peering though keyholes, we were encouraged to add a final flourish to some wall art by Children’s Laureate P.J. Lynch. Small Girl felt that P.J.s palate was very limited and that the vital element was, without doubt, a big pink flower.Adding a final flourish to PJ Lynch's art at Lismore Castle.

The highlight for me was the poet Tony Curtis who told stories, recited poems and sang songs to a small guitar, all inside the shelter of a tent while rain kept time on the canvas. A proper troubadour.

Tony Curtis at Lismore Festival.

From Tony, we raced to our appointment with the Book Doctor. The girls waited nervously in the waiting room while the doctor’s assistant filled in their Reading Passports and made a note of their particular bookish likes and dislikes.

Dr. Juliette then sat down with each of the girls in turn, assessed their reading temperature and prescribed the appropriate treatment. Absolutely brilliant. I so wish they had a grown-up department.

CBI passport and book prescription.

The Book Doctor is run by Children’s Books Ireland, keep an eye open for them at festivals around the country and don’t miss an opportunity to get their specialist opinion. Irish, Munster, and especially Cork readers might be interested to read their interview with Jessica O’Gara (wife of rugby legend, Ronan) about reading with their bi-lingual children in France.

Small Girl’s most memorable moment, other than a gigantic icecream cone, was an encounter with the waffleword-spouting BFG. He might not have been quite 24 feet tall in real life but he had me convinced.

IMG_6539I found out about this festival a month ago and by then all the ‘big name’ events were already booked out. Thankfully, the only event with tickets remaining was with Sarah Crossan who is Middle Daughter’s new favourite author. It feels like all of five minutes since she was obsessed with Jacqueline Wilson but, God help me, she has made the leap to Young Adult.

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It’s a bit scary when your child moves from reading children’s books  that you can consider safe to reading YA fiction which, it seems to me, goes out of its way to deliver all the horror the world has to offer. What’s more, the higher the quality of YA literature, the more depressing it seems to be. I must admit that I’m struggling with this at the moment.

Sarah Crossan YA books.

I’m shadowing my twelve year old’s reading but not censoring it. I have to believe that they will hear about all the shite, racism, sexism, bullying, parental abuse, you name it, one way or another and, at least, these books offer some degree of guidance on how to deal with it. Also, I want to keep her reading.

Brian Conaghan (also pictured above) remarked that one of his books, about a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome, has been banned in several regions due to excessive swearing. Clearly, I’m not alone in my confusion about what is and is not appropriate reading for this age group.

How do other parents of young teenagers feel about their reading habits? Help me out here!

I’ve about thirty pages left to read in We Come Apart which Sarah Crossan co-wrote with Brian Conaghan. So far, I’ve been by turns appalled by the gritty nature of the content and impressed by the extremely impressive writing and pure genius of the collaboration. I’ll let you know more when I’ve finished.

Sweet Pizza by G.R. Gemin.

My Cooking The Books article for Bookwitty.com this month features a wonderful book called Sweet Pizza by Italian-Welshman G.R. Gemin. I was hugely honoured that Giancarlo emailed me to compliment my minor variations on the theme of his excellent recipe. Interestingly, he mentioned that the book is sometimes pushed into the category of YA fiction simply because it contains some (minimal, I promise you) swear words. I can’t say I even noticed any swear words. It’s a truly lovely book. For the review, and the recipe, Click here.

Grow your own lunch.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I also wrote up an article last week which has been, quite literally, growing on my windowsill for the last two months. As we all know, I am of the most haphazard and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants variety of gardeners so, if I can grow my lunch on a windowsill, anybody can. Read more here.

I’m off to plant more radishes. Have a great weekend.

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The bluebells made such a pool…

I’m never certain when the right time has arrived to make the bluebell pilgrimage. This year, as ever, I doubted myself. As we walked the first 500 yards or so along the lowest path I thought, darn it, I’m too early. We’ve talked about this before, haven’t we? For hair appointments and coffee dates, school collections and bean plantings, always I err on the side of earliness. (I wrote last year about being early for bluebells but Never Too Early For Fairies.)

I scanned the verges but nary a speck of blue could I find. Then, Husband said, ‘look up,’ pointing above the next bank and there I could just make out a fringe of blue haze along the horizon. We clambered up the bank and there they were. Hang on, pause a moment in anticipation.IMG_6131 (2)

There.IMG_6131

One bluebell doesn’t smell like much, just a faint floral scent, but this many packed quite the olfactory punch. I can’t remember ever smelling air so sweetly perfumed. When ever they give us smellyvision I’ll go back and capture it for you.

This is the view up to the top of the hill.IMG_6170

And, if I turn on my heel and swivel, this is the view down to the road and, beyond that, the River Bandon.IMG_6176

This is a place where I usually find myself breathing deeper, relaxing, but this time I was almost breathless at the beauty of it. I ambled along with a silly grin on my face, resigned to the knowledge that there was no hope at all of capturing anything but a pale impression of it.

By the way, to the person who climbed a huge tree and placed a mirror in the perfect position, thank you.

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Dromkeen is a small Wood where fairies are well known to wander. In fact, we believe our resident fairies sometimes go on their holidays to Dromkeen. If you look closely, you can spot fairy doors, fairy windows and fairy washing hung out to dry. Some unscrupulous parents would have their children believe that the fairies leave messages. IMG_6198

Up and up we scampered. The dog, I’ve got to tell you, thought he had died and gone to doggy nirvana. IMG_6206

And then turned around and down again.IMG_6218

‘The bluebells made such a pool that the earth had become like water, and all the trees and bushes seemed to have grown out of the water. And the sky above seemed to have fallen down to the earth floor; and I didn’t know if the sky was the earth or the earth was water. I had been turned upside down. I had to hold the rock with my fingernails to stop me falling into the sky of the earth or the water of the sky.’ Graham Joyce. Some Kind of Fairytale.

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Blossoming.

Let’s, President Bartlet style, walk and talk.

I began this blog around the same time I really got stuck in to the garden. Small Girl had finished breastfeeding and I suppose I was feeling at something of a loose end. You go from being a little human’s lifeline to, well, not a lifeline, and I found that hard.

Look at this. Aren’t forget-me-nots the most darling little flowers in the world. I pulled a handful from the edge of a footpath while walking the dog and stuck it in the garden. Lo and behold, to my absolute delight, it has not only grown but has self-seeded quite happily. I suspect that I weeded out lots before I realised what they were. I adore the simple five-petal shape, clustered into perfect bouquets and that oh-so-finely balanced delicate blue and yellow combination. IMG_5129

Anyway, I guess I was planting a random selection of ideas here on the blog in much the same way I scattered seeds around the garden. I didn’t know for certain which would germinate and which would  produce nothing more than food for slugs. I didn’t know which bits were pretty fillers and which would bring genuine satisfaction. It was all trial and much, much error.

This is a perennial wallflower, (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’), incredibly good value, evergreen and long-flowering and the petals have a nice way of varying shades depending on how they catch the light. I have yellow and orange versions also which aren’t quite as pretty but earn their place with their sweet, warm scent.IMG_5126

So, the nice thing is, it’s all starting to come together. Blog and plot both are still a little rough around the edges. You can tell that it’s all a DIY effort; no professional landscapers or web designers have been employed. But I am stubbornly independent. I prefer having a slightly wonky home that I made myself than something pristine and perfect to someone else’s design.

Our front garden, which you rarely see, is planted with cherry blossoms, fruiting cherries and cherry plums. Some are little more than twigs but a couple have really matured into proper trees and they are enough to make my heart pound with joy and, I guess, pride. The big pink one is just beginning to unfurl. There is a promise there of something magnificent but also the threat, of course, that bad weather will spoil the show. I am on tenterhooks.IMG_5192

Our biggest cherry blossom has gone for glory this year. Beyond glorious! It makes me feel tiny, cowed. It’s like stars shining or small children singing. It’s bigger than me. This is me, looking up.IMG_5185

The crab apple. Bittersweet. The crab apple was planted, right outside the kitchen window, in memory of a lost baby and blooms every year just in time for her would-have-been birthday. Not just yet, but soon, which is the tough time. It feels good to have a something, though, to watch something grow and flower, rather than an empty space.IMG_5121

And just next to that, the pear is exploding skyward and about halfway to full snowy white blossoming. Look, look at this! Can you see the wing movement? I swear I squealed with glee when I saw this photo this morning.IMG_5138 (3)

Below the pear, I have a few cowslips, again foraged from a roadside somewhere. I fret occasionally about kidnapping these wild plants but I prefer to think of them as stray orphans in need of good home. They seem happy enough although I suppose they may just be putting on a brave front. I prefer wild flowers to all others and I suppose what I most want to capture in the garden is the joy of discovery that you experience when you clamber over a ditch or bend close to a hedgerow and find unexpected beauty. It would be easy enough to fill the garden with bedding plants but I like it most when the garden surprises me. I like it to have a life of its own.IMG_5117

What I didn’t really understand until recently was that writing, like gardening, seems also to have a life of its own. It’s a trickier business, letting loose the writing, not least because the risk of humiliation is greater. It’s easy enough to keep a close camera angle on the bees and deflect your attention from the rotting deckchairs and the ailing mulberry tree. The writing involves a good deal more exposure. Still, somehow, ideas are popping up and growing that I’m fairly certain I never deliberately planted. It’s taking shape and I am beside myself with excitement, fidgeting like a racehorse confined to the starting stalls and desperately, desperately trying to find the time I need to dig and hoe and tend and stake.

The new ribes (flowering currant) is a stunner already and I’m heartily wishing I had planted one (or three) of these sooner. I had read that the leaves smell of blackcurrant but it was still a shock to discover how much they do…much more than the fruiting blackcurrant leaves. I had a serious ‘duh!’ moment last week when, after 44¾ years, it dawned on me why Ribena is called Ribena. How Husband laughed. IMG_5164

We’ve had stunning weather for a few days but we’re back to the regular gloom today. Honest to God, we’re like Pavlov’s dogs in this country, only the stimulus is a ray of sunshine, or any break at all in the clouds. We have seen fine weather. We know it happens. And it will, surely, happen again. But, there are no guarantees so we gaze skyward in ever diminishing, but never quite extinguished hope.

This, to me, is the cutest thing in the garden at the moment. It’s an alpine strawberry in the making, planted next to Small Girl’s fairy garden because these are fairy strawberries, no bigger than your thumbnail but exquisitely sweet. IMG_5132

Potential. That’s what the garden and the blog share and what they are all about. It hardly seems to matter what the endpoint is. Just feeling alive and connected to potential.

The Small Girl sat in bed this week and, for the first time, read her own bedtime story, aloud and to herself. She still needs help with what she likes to call ‘tricky words’ but still, we have truly crossed a line. I am no longer her lifeline, neither for food nor stories. What remains are morning cuddles, and plaiting her hair, buttoning her shirt and reminding her what number comes after 12.

She brought me tulips for Mother’s Day. I can’t seem to grow them. The slugs eat them or the wind strips them so I rely on the kindness of those who know me best to buy them for me.IMG_5148

What I am bursting to tell you is that I interviewed Darina Allen yesterday! Can you believe it? How often does anybody get to meet, let alone have a proper conversation with, their heroes? She is brilliant, honestly. Sparkling with intelligence and genuinely inspirational.

Give me a day or two and I’ll let you know all about it. For now, I have peas to plant.

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