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Pickle Me This

March 13, 2018

More Fun at English Bookshops

That we only visited three bookshops seems a bit paltry, although a little less so when you consider we were only in England for six days. My only regret is that this time we didn’t get to visit a bookshop on a boat where we were fed Victoria Sponge Cake, but perhaps that can only happen so often in a lifetime. Our trip to England was a little more local this time, focussed on Lancaster where we’d rented a house for a week. A house that came with a wall full of books, which seemed like a good omen—”But don’t let this make you think we don’t have to go to all the bookshops,” I reminded everybody.

We’d actually visited our first bookshop before we even got to England, because I like the idea of travelling to England with no books, instead picking them up on my travels. Which is pretty risky, actually, considering the decimation of book selection at the Pearson International Airport where there are no longer actual bookshops, and instead a small display of books on display alongside bottles of Tylenol and electrical volt adapters. But I found a couple of titles that interested me, ultimately deciding on Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan, the story of a political wife whose life comes apart when her husband is accused of rape. A timely book, and it was interesting, but spoiled for me by a “twist” that made this very fathomable story a little bit less so. Which meant that I was all too ready to buy another book at our first English bookshop, Waterstones in Lancaster.

I love the Waterstones in Lancaster. My heart belongs to indie bookshops, but Waterstones is better than your average bookshop chain, and the Lancaster Waterstones in particular, which its gorgeous storefront that stretches along a city block. With big windows, great displays, little nooks and crannies and staircases leading to more places to explore. It’s a gorgeous store, with great kids’ displays too, and my children were immediately occupied by reading and also by a variety of small plush octopuses. I ended up getting Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, a follow-up to Howards End is on the Landing, which I bought when we were in England in 2009 and Harriet was a baby and I spent our week there reading it while she napped on my chest. Jacob’s Room… would turn out not to be as good as Howards End…, which broadened my literary world so much (and introduced me to Barbara Pym!). The new bookwas kind of rambling and disconnected and not enough about books, but was so inherently English that I was happy with it.

On the Wednesday we drove across the Pennines to Ilkley to visit The Grove Bookshop, which is one of my favourite bookshops ever. It’s located up the street from Betty’s Tea Room, which makes for one of the best neighbourhoods I’ve ever hung out in. After afternoon tea, where the children behaved impeccably, we took them to a toyshop for a small present as reward, which was good incentive for their behaviour in The Grove Bookshop too, where I was able to browse for as long as I liked. I love it there, the perfect bookshops and well worth a trip halfway across the world. I had been in the mood for a Muriel Spark novel since reading this wonderful article, and The Grove Bookshop delivered with The Ballad of Peckham Rye, a new edition in honour of Spark’s centenaryI was also very happy to find a rare copy of Adrian Mole: The Collected Poems, as Mole’s work has had a huge impact in my own development as an author and intellectual.

I really loved The Ballad of Peckham Rye, so weird and contemporary in its tone, strange and meta, the way all Spark’s work is. When we’re on vacation, I don’t like getting out of bed, lingering instead with a cup of tea and toast crumbs, and Peckham Rye was perfect for that,

On Friday we went to Storytellers Inc, located in Lytham-St. Anne’s, just south of Blackpool. Originally a children’s bookshop, they’ve branched out to books for readers of all ages, although the children’s focus remains—they have a huge selection of kids’ books and a special kids-only reading room with a tiny door and kid-sized furniture. (Sadly, we’d not brought our kids along with us that afternoon and it would have been weird to go in there without them.) In addition to the kids’ books, they had lots of Canadian fiction, and poetry. We ended up buying Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo, just because we liked the cover. And also Motherhood, by Helen Simpson, because I’d seen it on the shop Instagram page, and then I saw that Emily was reading it.

I don’t think I’ve ever read Simpson before, but this is a mini-collection of her stories from a few different books over the decades—and I loved it. Plus there was a boob on the cover. I finished reading it on the plane journey home, and then started Welcome to Lagos, which was really great. It’s Onuzo’s second novel, after the award-winning The Spider King’s Daughter. The latest is about a ragtag crew who arrives in Lagos and attempts to make a life there, in spite of the odds. They end up running in with a corrupt former Minister of Education with a suitcase full of money, and what they choose to do with this fate will make or break their destinies. In this case, choosing to buy a book for it’s cover was a very good decision.

March 6, 2018

We Went to England!

When I go on vacation, I usually like to put up a post and tell you so, to remind readers that there is indeed a human being behind this blog who sometimes needs a holiday, and also so I don’t leave you hanging (and having to head over to Instagram to find out just what I’ve been up to in the last five minutes). But about three weeks ago, I made the fatal error of noting that I hadn’t been ill or even really had a cold in ages and ages, which meant it was inevitable that I’d become sick a few days later. Three days before we were set to depart for a trip to England, I was in terrible shape and confined to my bed, and the prospect of an international flight seemed impossible. Fortunately two days in bed meant there had been some kind of recovery, in that I no longer felt like I’d been hit by a truck, but I had to lie down frequently on the way to the airport, and by the time we got there I’d developed a fabulous rash all over my face. So all this is to explain just why a review of Kim Fu’s The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore has been hanging out here for ages. But then it’s such a terrific novel, maybe/definitely it deserved to be.

But the better part of the story is that we went to England! And losing an entire night of sleep left me so discombobulated that my body forgot I was sick and the rash mostly cleared up, and we were ready for all kinds of adventures that would not be deterred by the weather event titled, “The Beast from the East,” to be followed by the less-intimidatingly named “Storm Emma.” We were happy to be staying on the northwest coast, where the weather conditions were not so severe, and really just meant that everywhere we went we didn’t have to queue for things. Our AirBnB was in Lancaster, and it was fantastic—with an actual hot tub. And it was not so wintry on our first day there, where the sun was shining and there were flowers in the windows. We explored the city centre, happy to be in the company of Stuart’s mom and sister, and our tiredness mostly just had the effect of making us all laugh hysterically at stupid things. We hiked up to Williamson Park, which afforded beautiful views of the city, and delighted in the butterfly house and the animals in the zoo there, and then took turns on the zip line.

On Tuesday we drove (our amazing little Mercedes hire car!) to Stuart’s town by the sea, and had ice cream cones in frigid temperatures. We had our first experience looking for English beach glass, until the beach got too cold and we had to go in.

On Wednesday winter had arrived with a vengeance, and we took in the snow-covered hills of Yorkshire on our way to Ilkley, which is one of our favourite places in England, where we partook in afternoon tea at Betty’s and on the way home the kind people at the Pennine Service Station all worked together to figure out how to open our bonnet because we’d run out of windshield fluid.

On Thursday, we all went to Bowness in the Lake District to see the Beatrix Potter Attraction and eat lamb shank in a pub, and we had the best scone of the week (we had many) at the Cornish Bakery there.

And on Friday we had another pub lunch (our children are confused and now thinks their auntie only has lunch in pubs) followed by delicious ice cream cones, and then Nana and Auntie Jen took the children to the Blackpool Sea Life Centre while Stuart and I went looking for bookshops. (More about the bookshops in a following post.) And then back to Stuart’s parents’ house for fish and chips, which were so delicious.

On Saturday, we went into the city centre for the Magic of Harry Potter Exhibit, and Harriet got to hold an owl whose variety was the British Little Owl, which is the cutest name ever. And then one more pub lunch with Auntie Jen—this time with a cheese board—and we really loved Lancaster so much. Then we drove back to Stuart’s parents’ down the narrowest road of our entire vacation (which is saying something) and I wasn’t even terrified. We spent our last afternoon there, and I got to read the Saturday Guardian (with all the supplements!) and then had a roast dinner before heading to Manchester for an airport hotel stop. And then getting up at 5:30 am (but they were already serving our continental breakfast and we got to have it!) and heading to the airport for the long trip home, via Amsterdam, where we had the most delicious lunch in an airport ever, and then I spent $17 on cheese.

It was a wonderful week, so good to see our family, discover new places, and eat delicious things. And now we’re back and getting over the jet lag, and happy to settling into ordinary life again, and to be reminded that ordinary life is pretty darn nice.

December 31, 2015

New year, new books, new teapot, etc.

IMG_20151231_140910We have had a stupidly crummy holiday, mostly for non-monumental reasons. A year ago I wrote this post about our family’s talent for leisure and enjoying ourselves—we were skating, movie-going, relaxing, lunching, going offline for an actual week, etc.—but we were showing none of those tendencies this time around. Things got off to a good start, but Harriet came down with a stomach bug on Christmas Eve that stayed around for a few days. Iris stopped sleeping over Christmas, and was conspiring to kill me. Stuart was diagnosed with strep throat, and while I was pretty well post-pneumonia, I was so tired and crabby. We weren’t terribly ambitious then—some days our big outing was to the grocery store. Though there were a few highlights—before it all went wrong, we had a fun day downtown(er) and got to visit Ben McNally Books, where I picked up Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, which I’m about to begin as soon as I publish this post. We had nice visits with my parents, who braved our company. Lunch at Fanny Chadwicks yesterday, though Stuart is still unable to eat solids, so he didn’t have the greatest time. Tonight we’re going to our friends for a New Years get-together, though we won’t be staying too long (and I am sure nobody else at the party is too upset about that. We’ve become social pariahs).

I did, however, get a lot of reading done, mostly because my evening companion took to going to bed at 8pm, and I took a holiday from work things and read all through nap times (bliss!). My holiday reads were not at all disappointing, mercifully, and I look forward to writing a post about them this week. My final read of the year was a gift from Stuart (who got me so many excellent bookish things), The Magician’s Book, by Laura Miller (and we’re going to be starting Prince Caspian in a few days and I am so excited). My final read of 2015 then, followed by my first read of 2016—Birdie. I really want to keep a focus on reading First Nations women writers.

IMG_20151231_132842Anyway, a disappointing holiday is winding down on the right note. Iris’s weird rash (of course she has a weird rash!) is clearing up, if that’s any indication. Today I did receive the great joy of not only a pair of Hunter wellies in the post, but a brand new teapot. And why did I need a teapot, you might ask, seeing as I came into possession of the greatest teapot on earth just six months ago? Well, on Christmas Day, my teapot got smashed, which led to sulking and petulance on my part, and put a damper on our holiday on top of everything, because I am shallow and materialistic. (But it’s a teapot! Not just any ordinary material.) The bright side of your teapot smashing though is that you get to wait for a new one to come in the post. (I wanted a London Pottery teapot, you see.) There seemed to be no more white polka-dots to be had for love nor money, but I was able to order a plain red one from the shop I’d bought the last one from in Bobcaygeon. And it arrived quickly and intact, alongside my new wellies which replaced a) the wellies I’d got for Christmas that didn’t fit and b) the wellies my mother-in-law bought me for my 26th birthday a decade ago and whose image was for a time my blog header and can still be seen if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, and which finally started leaking after many years of service. So things are certainly on the up-and-up.

I’ve had a good year, even though it’s gone out with pneumonia (but then having pneumonia was terrific, from a reading point of view…). I am pleased that I sold my novel and am excited to turn it into an actually book over the course of this year, though I still can’t quite believe that’s going to happen. I read a lot of good books. I had a splendid trip to England, the land of teapots and wellies. I learned to write profiles, which was a new challenge—I wrote about Julie Morstad in Quill & Quire and have a cover story forthcoming in my alumni magazine. I’m pleased with my review of Marina Endicott’s new novel in The Globe and really, really proud of my essay on Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Adult Onset, which was another challenge and I’m so happy to have met it. I want to keep expanding my writerly horizons. Readerly ones too.

This fall has been exhausting. When I look back, it seems like getting pneumonia was inevitable. It doesn’t help that Iris’s sleep is so patchy, as it’s ever been. My resolution for 2016, if I had one, would probably involve getting more sleep, if that weren’t at the expense of so many things, but I will make an effort. It might also involve baking fewer cakes, but this kind of thing is why I don’t go in for resolutions in the first place.

Happy New Year to you, and thank you for reading!

April 28, 2015

Destination Bookshop: An English Journey

IMG_20150414_120646And so, with The Bookshop Book in hand, I set out to plan our trip to England. Inspired partly by specific bookshops mentioned in the book, but more so by the notion of an indie bookshop pilgrimage. Not everywhere we went was included in The Bookshop Book, because, while you might hear otherwise, there are still, mercifully, far too many excellent bookshops in England—in the world, even—to all be included in one single book, and we surely missed many a key bookshop in our journey because, believe it or not, we had not arrived in England for just the purpose of visiting bookshops. Oh, no! Because we were there to eat cake too, and merry were the days in which we could combine these occupations.

IMG_20150414_121512Silverdell Books in Kirkham, Lancs: We discovered this shop from its mention in The Bookshop Book, and it was just a few miles away from where our family lives. Most remarkable of all: it’s a bookshop/ice cream parlour, featuring award-winning homemade ice cream they make it the back (and you can watch through the viewing window). They also serve tea and cakes, and so I partook in a cream tea in a bookshop the day we visited, and all my dreams came true. The ice cream was delicious, and the children were most enthusiastic about this stop-off. There wasn’t a huge selection of books, actually—ice cream is more the draw, I think. But they had a respectable stock of second-hand copies, some new ones, and many of these signed from their regular author events. The kids book section was also excellent, I picked up The Jolly Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon for Harriet, which we read in a day. A good selection of local interest books too. I love that Kirkham has a literary hub. And the scones were perfectly delicious.


IMG_1007The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, Yorkshire: This was my second visit to The Grove Bookshop, which I’d like to declare The Most Perfect Bookshop in all of England. After a few days of chain bookstores’ disappointing stock, it was a pleasure to walk into a shop that had all the best books. Plus there was bunting in the window, and the shop is just so beautiful with dark wood and careful lighting. I was able to get a couple of books from the Bailey’s Prize shortlist (prominently displayed), plus some picture books for our children, who we’d left with their grandparents for the day. Browsing, our stack just kept getting higher, and then the pleasure of chatting with staff at the till when it came time to pay for it. Keep in mind that we’d just come from afternoon tea at Betty’s, just down the street, so all in all, the day we went to Ilkley was pretty much perfect.



IMG_1104The Book Barge, Barton Under Needwood, Staffordshire: Finally visiting The Book Barge (which I’d learned about from The Bookshop Book) was surreal in the absolute wonderfulness of the experience—when can a single thing ever be so good? I know I wrote about it already, but I’m going to do it again. It was a brilliant, sunny day at Barton Marina, and the sun shone through the Book Barge windows, illuminating the beautiful space, the gorgeous books, and my children chased the resident rabbit (but of course!) under the sofa while I browsed, and we had tea. The cups were hanging on hooks in a row.


IMG_1080 IMG_1087 IMG_1091

IMG_1078The books were lovingly and carefully curated, collection in odd ways that made perfect sense. Lots of titles were on sale for a pound (and some of these were really good), and the more coveted titles lined the barge’s shelves. It was a pleasure to meet proprietor Sarah Henshaw, who now lives on the barge (which is open Saturdays from 10-4) and who is author of a splendid memoir about book barging—The Bookshop that Floated Away. And having read the book, actually being there was like a story come to life, and so delightful. I bought a huge stack of books, which I enjoyed rifling through as we had lunch at the The Apple Tree Cafe beside where the barge was moored, and the bargeman’s lunch was enormous, weird, and perfectly delicious.


booksaremybagPlackitt and Booth Booksellers, Lytham St-Anne’s, Lancs: I can tell I’m in a really good bookshop by the calibre of conversation I get at the till, and Plackitt and Booth in Lytham St-Anne’s did not disappoint. It was not her shop, the woman working there told me, but she loved it, and she might have been wary when they’d decided to start selling toys as well as books, she’s so happy with how the whole thing worked out. The toys (a wonderfully curated selection) bring people into the shop, she told me, and these same people usually come out buying books. And then we started talking about books, and The Bookshop Book, and she recommended other shops I ought to try on my next trip, and we delightedness in bookishness in general. Certainly, I had found my people.

IMG_1154And my children were just as happy as she was about how the whole half bookshop/half toyshop scheme had turned out. The best bookshop since the ice cream one, they reported, as they played with the toys in the back of the shop (and came out with two girl pirate figurines to their credit). And while they played, I browsed, so impressed by the selection, and pleased to see so many Canadian authors on the shelf. The store was bustling too, which is such a nice thing. I really loved it.

We followed our visit with lunch at The Lytham Kitchen down the street, which was so good. I also heard reports of nearby Storytellers, Inc., which specializes in books for children. We will definitely check it out on our next visit!

IMG_1218The London Review Bookshop, London: I love the LRB Shop! After a week of looking for Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief all over England, I finally found a copy here. And so many other wonderful books to choose from. Lots of important nonfiction, and books in translation, and best of all? My husband and children were in the adjoining cake shop enjoying themselves while I browsed. Has anything ever been more perfect?



IMG_1224Downstairs, the shelves stretched high, and Harriet and Iris sought out the books that were just for them (which were placed amongst the books for grown-up readers in a way that accorded the children great dignity, I thought). We weren’t actually planning to buy the children books, but we never are, and then we couldn’t help ourselves. Harriet got the fabulous and fun book/game, What’s Inside?and we also got My Pet Book by Bob Staake, who illustrated Cars Galore, a book we all love. The London Review Bookshop was the perfect way to start our bookish London Day, and I didn’t mind having to to cart around my new LRB book bag (heavy already) for its entirety.

IMG_1259And then finally, Persephone Books, London: Everyone who knows Persephone Books responded to our plans with visit there with a gasp and a frisson of excitement. Persephone is a press with a shop devoted to selling their own books, gorgeous reissues of 20th century books by women (and not just women anymore). All the books are uniform blue, distinguished inside by stunning endpapers whose prints are specially selected (and which also appear of a variety of textiles for same throughout the store—and what I wouldn’t do for a Persephone throw cushion, but alas).

IMG_1254I visited the shop with Iris asleep in her carrier, and didn’t have so long to browse (and browsing is tricky anyway—the book all look the same) so I’d already decided I was going to buy a book by Dorothy Whipple, whose appeal was her Lancashire roots and Harriet Evans’ preface to Because of the Lockwoods: “the case does need to be made for Dorothy Whipple’s entry into the pantheon of great British novelists of the twentieth century. Not just because she can so deftly spin a cocoon of a story around you, swiftly rendering you transfixed (the art of which is severely, crucially underestimated by reviewers and readers alike) but because she wrote books quite unlike any others, for all their seeming “ordinariness”. One might say the time is long overdue for a Barbara Pym type rehabilitation. I am as ambitious [for this to happen] to Dorothy Whipple. Her scope is larger, her own ambition grander, the results hugely satisfying, often thrilling.”

I can’t wait.


April 23, 2015

Vacation Book Seven: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

ALayout 1 quick post on my phone before we depart tomorrow. We’ve had an excellent last few days with lots of sunshine and fun. Our trip to London included The London Review Bookshop and their cake shop, and I finally found Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey, plus gorgeous picture books. We visited the British Museum with my friend Rebecca, and played in Coram’s Field. Iris napped in the carrier as we went to the Persephone Bookshop, and I got the Dorothy Whipple novel I’d chosen because she’s a Lancashire author… not realizing that all her books were doorstoppers. It was a very good day and the children were heroic. We took things easier today with a day in Windsor that was made brilliant with a visit with Sarah from Edge of Evening. I am so fond of and inspired by her blog, and it was a pleasure to meet her in person. We had a terrific lunch at a pub called Bel and the Dragon where the table top was a chalkboard, and watched the guards march at Windsor Castle. Her son was adorable and we had a wonderful time, and if that wasn’t enough–she gave us books! Tiny editions of a Katie Morag and Owl and the Pussycat for Harriet and Iris, plus a London book, and the Elena Ferrante for me. Remarkable because I’ve nearly bought this book so many times, and now it’s mine, and I’m about to read it now. It was meant to be. And if I get a chapter read on the flight tomorrow, we will consider the journey a success.

April 20, 2015

Vacation Book Six: Outline by Rachel Cusk

outlineI’ve not actually started reading Outline, but hope to do so tonight once I’ve finished up with How to Be Both. I spent Iris’s nap time today lying on the grass in the garden while the blue sky shone high above, and the reading was splendid. Afterwards, we went to the beach one last time and had ice cream while it was actually sunny, which was kind of novel. I walked on the beach in bare feet, and Harriet wore wellies with a skirt and looked like Katie-Morag. This morning, we went to Lytham-St. Anne’s, where I’d never been before, and I loved the shops, the trees, wide sidewalks and greengrocers with gorgeous displays of fruit and flowers. And they have a bookshop! We were pleased to visit Plackitt and Booth, whose branching out into toy sales has not compromised their book selection at all. So many Canadian authors, and a nice mix of hardback and paperback, new and old—just the selection I’ve come to expect of indie bookshops. I had an excellent bookish conversation with the woman at the till, pausing in between while customers came in to collect their special orders. And Harriet and Iris played in the back of the shop, finally choosing tiny girl pirate figurines for purchase (and we had fun taking photographs of these on the beach later).

booksaremybagI bought Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm for my sister-in-law’s birthday (which was actually in February, and I’d bought it for her previously from a non-Amazonian UK online retailer, but it was mistakenly shipped to our house instead of her house, and then we forgot to bring it with us—the copy at home will be a gift easily re-gifted, fortunately, as it’s such a funny novel) and two more Katie Morag books because we’re obsessed, and I was so excited to get a “Books Are My Bag” bag because I’ve been following them online (and The Bookshop Book was the official book of their campaign!). I will cherish it as much as one can do with a plastic bag. Perhaps it can take the place of my purse—I can be like that woman in Carol Shields’ Unless—Gwen, I think—who carries a plastic bag instead of a purse and then ends up pinching Norah’s scarf.

Tomorrow we leave our family, and head back down south, which means we’ll lose our Wifi and also the relatives to entertain the children while I recap our days with blog posts and laze around reading. So I may be heading out of touch. We have a day of travel, a day in London, and one more in Windsor before we head home on Friday. It has been a truly lovely vacation. I feel like we’ve been away forever, and I’m not quite finished with it yet.

April 18, 2015

Book Interlude: A Visit to The Book Barge

bookToday was absolutely a magical day. I’ve been hoping to visit The Book Barge ever since I read Sarah Henshaw’s memoir, The Bookshop That Floated Away, in December. For the time being, she’s currently moored at the marina in the village of Barton Under Needwood in Staffordshire, open Saturdays from 10-4, and so we left early this morning with our hopes as high and bright as the sun was. We arrived to find the marina bustling and beautiful, the canal boats gorgeous to behold and putting me in mind of what they said in the Wind in the Willows about messing about in boats.

shopThe Book Barge was wonderful. Can I convey that? That a single thing really could be worth a trip halfway around the world and down the motorway. The boat was crowded, and there is nothing quite so fine to my mind as a crowded bookshop. Cheap books were for sale in cabinets on the roof, enticing customers, and then we climbed down below where Sarah had tea and cake (Victoria sponge!) ready for us, china cups on hooks on the wall. She was lovely, and it was a pleasure to meet her, as well as her partner, Stu, whom I knew as a character in her book, which was doubly exciting. Harriet and Iris played with old typewriters and petted the shop bunny, who was driven underneath the sofa to escape baby paws. The feeling of the boat moving on the water was magical, and walking about on solid ground was a little boring after that.

stackAnd the books! It was an exquisitely curated bookshop, a pleasure to browse. (I will have better pictures once I get them off my camera—these are just the ones I took on my phone.) I picked up The Language of Flowers simply because it was beautiful, and opened to the section on the Anenome, which features the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Come Harriet! Sweet is the Hour,” and then I knew I had to by it, because it would features irises after all, and rare is the flower book that features both my daughters. I also picked up Simple Pleasures: Little Things that Make Life Worth Living, because I appreciate such things. And Pies: Recipes, History and Snippets, because who has been eating all the pies this week? We have. A copy of Sarah’s book for my mom, who is going on her own canal boat adventure later this year. Magpie Treasure by Kate Slater, a gorgeous picture book we all like very much. And I got Look at Me by Jennifer Egan, because I fancied it.

And good news! A copy of my own book, The M Word, is now for sale in a certain English bookshop.


And then we went to a nearby cafe, and partook in a bargeman’s lunch.


And if all that was not enough, our adventures were only just beginning. (Happily, Stuart’s intrepid sister, Jenny, was along for the journey.) When we left Barton Marina, we drove northeast into the Peak District, through the breathtaking A6 road in Derbyshire to Chatsworth House, which is a place that’s dear to me. I visited in 2003 at the height of my Mitford mania whilst suffering from a throat infection and was so sick I ended up lying in the grass among the sheep poo, and this didn’t dint my appreciation of the place one bit. I tried to go back again before we moved away from England, but the busses were on strike, and so it’s been 12 years since my last visit and I’ve been longing for it, though it was a bit sad since Debo has died, but alas, she led a good life, and we shelled out a small fortune for the privilege of exploring her gardens for a while and it was worth every penny. Plus there were small carts selling tea and ice cream. At one point, we turned a corner and Iris looked up and said a new word, which was “Beauty.” It was the most stunning landscape, and the children were tired and whiny, but that’s required when your parents have forced you to visit a stately home. They did have fun running around on the green green grass though, and I felt the sun on my face for the first time in months and it was glorious.

We drove home through the Peaks, which was terrifying and incredible, and I am well versed enough in English driving now that a windy cliff’s edge at 50 mph doesn’t faze me. The world was green and huge, and each turn brought a visit more stunning than the next, and we ate scones from the Chatsworth Farm Shop for dinner, which were delicious. The sun sunk lower and lower, a bright glowing ball, and didn’t quite disappear over the edge of the horizon until we were nearly home again, swoony and tired with feet still unsteady, a bit drunk on a wonderful, unforgettable day.

April 17, 2015

Vacation Book Number Five: How to Be Both by Ali Smith

how-to-be-bothThere were weird weird connections between Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle and Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter—they were different in tone and time period, but both had a gothic sensibility, animal imagery, featured powerless women and had similar, devastating deaths at the end. Comyns was funnier though. Still, it’s always so odd how certain books to one another, uncovering layers of meaning that would not have otherwise been deciphered. And now my next book is Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, which I’m just about to start. It’s on the Baileys Prize shortlist, and I’ve heard so much about it. Though I won’t have much time to read tomorrow—we’re driving to the Midlands to visit the Book Barge, and then from there to Chatsworth House, and home via the Peak District (with a Bakewell Tart en-route, I hope). Which promises to be an epic day, and I am very excited.

Today we stayed closer to home, with a trip to the Dewlay Cheese Shop, where we got some famous Garstang Blue and other deliciousness. We visited a nearby farm soon after so the children could see sheep not just through a car window, and they had a tea shop, of course, so scones and jam were had, and that was excellent. After Iris’s nap, we took advantage of having the sea at the end of our road, and went to the beach, building sandcastles, digging holes, collecting shells and stones and washing them off in the tide pools. The sky is enormous here, horizons stretching forever. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

royal babyAnd what have the children been reading, you might wonder? We got It’s a New Royal Baby, The Big Katie Morag Story Book, Alfie’s Shop, and Hairy McLary, Shoo. Harriet and Iris have also enjoyed watching the Katie Morag TV series on the BBC, which is wonderful and the most remarkable adaptation of the storybook illustrations. Plus their Nana bought them the Paddington movie on DVD, so there has been plenty of entertainment all around.

April 16, 2015

Vacation Book Four: The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

vets-daughterToday was glorious! We left the children behind and took a trip to Yorkshire, to the wonderful town of Ilkley, which we visited when we were here four years ago. The appeal then was that I was reading Burley Cross Postbox Theft and Ilkley was fairly close to the fictional Burley Cross, plus I’d been reading about Betty’s Tea Rooms in Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and I wanted to visit one. Today we wanted to do it all again, and also pay a visit to the excellent Grove Bookshop, and what a joy to finally visit an independent bookshop. The Waterstones in Lancaster is beautiful, but they’ve failed to have the books I’m looking for in stock. (This tweet should also set you as to what’s wrong with Waterstones, and why you should support your local independent bookstore ALWAYS**). The Grove Bookshop, on the other hand, had everything I wanted in stock, and more—a lovely display for the Baileys Shortlisted books. I got Outline by Rachel Cusk, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, and The Secret Library by Haruki Murakami because the design was amazing—it has an actual library pocket on the cover!

groveWe spent lots of time browsing at the bookshop, appreciating their excellent displays, fantastic selection, chatting with the staff, and admiring the bunting in the window. We were also delightfully full after afternoon tea at Betty’s, which was a terrific treat. I am definitely enjoying combining my scone and book-buying experience on this trip. And then we walked around Ilkley, which was so green and gorgeous, cherry blossoms in bloom. We bought a pheasant pasty from Britain’s Best Butcher, and had another cup of tea at The Toast House across the street, which I loved because they had a copy of one of the most delightful Canadian picture books ever in their kids’ reading nook, and also because they used bundt pans as decoration. We decided that next time we come, we’re definitely going to go up on Ilkley Moor, and if the children don’t whine (much), we’ll reward them with afternoon tea for afters.

The last time we drove to Ilkley, the car in front of us exploded on the motorway off-ramp, but nothing so eventful happened this time. We drove home down winding roads, and were so pleased to come home to happy daughters and a not entirely exhausted Nana who was triumphant in having put Iris down for her nap (all of whom were made all the more happy by the fact that we bought treats back from Betty’s). And now I am going to have a bath in the most luxurious tub in the Northwest and read some Barbara Comyns whose Our Spoons Came From Woolworths I loved so very much.

Tomorrow we have no plans to visit a bookshop, but we are going to a cheese shop, which should be just as good.



**Speaking of Independent Bookshops, I’m happy to be taking part in Authors for Indies Day on May 2 at Book City on the Danforth. Between 2-4, I’ll be guest bookselling, talking up my favourite titles. I hope you will come and visit! And if it sounds good but not local, I am sure you can find a similar event going on in your neighbourhood. It’s going to be great.

April 15, 2015

Vacation Book Three: I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill

i'm kingI love the cover to Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle, designed by Zandra Rhodes as part of Penguin’s Decades series. I’m halfway through it now, although my book a day record is about to be stymied by us actually doing things other than spending the afternoons reading. (I know!!!) Today we went to Lancaster where my sister-in-law lives in an adorable terrace with a park across the street. “This house only has two rooms,” Harriet whispered when we went inside, and then Iris literally somersaulted down the steep staircase and now half her head is purple. It was terrifying for everybody involved. Lancaster is wonderful because they have an amazing Waterstones, an Oxfam bookshop, a castle, and a market with stalls and stalls of meat pies on sale. Unfortunately, all the books on my list don’t seem to be in stock anywhere—”They’ll be out in paperback in September,” I keep being told, which isn’t very helpful. I want Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey and Rachel Cusk’s new novel Outlines, or anything from the Bailey’s Prize shortlist except the novel from the perspective of a bee. But I did get The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (who wrote Our Spoons Came from Woolworths) and I have high hopes for stock at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley tomorrow and the London Review Bookshop next week. I shall not go bookless, rest assured.

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