The Lost Days of Summer

Apparently it’s Wednesday. My phone says so. Which means that unless there has been some international data breakdown, I assume this is right. It’s week 1 of the kid’s summer holiday and I already lost track of days. I am trying not to be disturbed by this but I admit to failing.

It is odd really, because at Christmas I do really enjoy the loosing track of days, when each day becomes just like the other filled with food and family and board games and reading by the fire. In the summer though, I have stuff to do. Deadlines to keep, so losing track of the days makes me anxious, because what if I forget to deliver that job or reply to that email? What then?

It’s great for the 11 year old, though. I remember summers as a kid, the days seemingly stretch out in front of you forever. Possibilities of what I could do every single day, I miss that boredom, miss hanging out at the lido, miss riding my bike everywhere, reading without interruption. And then at the end of the summer, I looked forward to going back to school (yes, I was that kid) and having a bit of a routine again, but while it lasted, I loved every minute of it.

Now, I am grateful that I work from home, I am grateful for it every single day. Yet, I admit that summers change my routine of “kid is at school, time to work”. It’s 6 am. I have already been at the computer for more than an hour doing some admin stuff for my work. Planning what I need to do today. I am quickly typing these thoughts down and then roughly at 6.15, I will start my work day. The work day is fractured with time spend with my kid, because a) goodness knows how much longer she wants to hang out with me b) I like spending time with her and c) I am easily distracted when she is around anyway.

I am often faced with people that tell me that this sort of working cannot be productive. Or that, because I work this way during school holidays, means that what I do is not real work. Years ago, that really bothered me. Now, I just smile. The amazing thing I have learnt is that these fractured days are mostly super productive in terms of work. The work load gets done. I am happy, too, because I get to do stuff with that human I have created. And then when I sit down, my brain just seems to slot into whatever job I am working on. And every year, I think: Look at this, you work well this way, why not incorporate it into your life when September comes, get up early, do some work, then after lunch when you are tired, you can snooze for 30 minutes. Yet, every single year, as soon as September comes, I return back to the way of working that society seems to find acceptable: Sit down at the computer and work for a solid 6-7 hour block. Push through that tiredness, forget about going for a walk, forget about taking care of yourself, that is for those hours outside of the work block.

I have plans to push through this conditioning this year and have put reminders in my google calendar that say: Remember summer, remember all the work got done and you still had fun.

And now, some coffee and work. It’s 6.10.

5 books for different readers on Mary, Queen of Scots

I have watched this trailer about 5 times today.

I am so excited about the upcoming movie about Mary Queen of Scots. She is one of the most wonderful characters in history, wild, vilified, dangerous, naive…. the opinions on her and her person differ wildly and her life and how it ended makes for the most thrilling stories.

I have chosen 5 different books that feature her – some where is she the main character, others where she is in the background. The books vary in their tone and style, too: From beach read to serious study.

Mary Stuart by Stefan Zweig

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This is a non-fiction account or exploration rather of Mary Stuart’s life. Zweig had read an account of her execution in the British Library but he could not really find any text that explored her whole life and so he began to write one himself. It was first published in 1935 and is a classic and wonderfully done. You cannot go much wrong with beginning here.

Best suited: You like your non-fiction literary and as if being told a story. This is part biography, part thriller. 

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

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Gregory has made it her career almost entirely around the exploration of the women surrounding the Plantagenets and Tudors and although not all of her books work for me, I did enjoy this one. I find her take on Mary interesting and she actually focusses on the years of Mary’s house arrest in England before her execution.

Best suited: Perfect beach read. Will keep you gripped without taxing you too much. 

Fatal Majesty: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots by Reay Tannahill

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Tannahill was the historical saga Queen of the 80ies and 90ies and is now sadly quite forgotten, her books are a bit slow but wonderfully researched and this is in my opinion one of her best. She really focuses on all the players around Mary, the intrigue, the politics, the spies, the betrayals.

Best suited: If you don’t mind a slower pace in a historical fiction novel. 

Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

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The Lymond Chronicles feature Francis Crawford of Lymond and his exploits when Mary is just a baby up to when she is a child. The books are all about the political intrigue surrounding the problematic status in which Mary of Guise finds herself after the death of her husband, the Scottish King and the lengths she has to go to protect the throne for her daughter, Mary. These books are literary historical fiction at its best in my personal opinion. Mary is mostly a background figure there, but the books are wonderful to understanding the greater historical context of Europe at that time.

Best suited: If you like your historical fiction with a lot of brain and quick humour. 

In My End is My Beginning: A Life of Mary Queen of Scots by James A. MacKay

Another non-fiction history book about Mary. This one more recent than the one by Zweig, published in 1999. MacKay looks at Mary within the context of tense Anglo-Scots relations due to the question of religion. An unlucky person, who for a while managed to reign with hardly no resources and actually was quite good at it. Most definitely one of the greatest characters in Scottish history.

Best suited: When you want bare facts!

Have you got any Mary books to add to my TBR?

Why do we read seasonal?

Molly Flatt wrote a piece for the Guardian many, many years ago (I found it: Do you have a seasonal reading pattern?) and it was the first time that I wondered whether the weather influenced my reading. Depending on my mood, when you catch me, my answer can be one of the following

  • No, never
  • Yes, I read sad books in winter and want happy books in summer
  • The reverse of the statement above
  • What seasons, I live in Britain.

Sarcasm aside, my TBR is stuffed full with books that I sort of keep aside for reading during hot summery weather and since that is normally in short supply, I only ever get to one or two of them before I head back to my dark Historical Fiction, the mysteries, the Fantasy tomes etc.

In comes summer 2018: I think it’s well over a month now that is has been sunny and wonderful and I find I started to pick up books that have summery themes, often of an oppressive nature or set in hot places or about people who come from cool climates and then find themselves in unspeakable heat. So, I select these off my bookshelves and place them on the bedside table (which is like being longlisted for a book award in my house, seriously, once you are on the bedside table, your chances are pretty high to reach the “read” status).

So a few things that I have promoted to my bedside table:

 

The Mosquito Coast

Adventure story set in the Honduran Jungle. It sounds dark, it sounds oppressive and has been lingering on my TBR for nearly two years. This might be the summer I am reading it. I feel in the mood for it, so it might just happen.

Illyrian Spring

A 1930s novel by a woman writer? Well, that has been my cup of tea for a while now. Set on the Dalmatian coast, which is one of my favourite places. Apparently, it was scandalous when it first came out. I don’t read gossip magazines, but I do like a good bit of literary scandal.

Mr Lynch’s Holiday

A Midlands bus driver visits his son in a Spanish expat colony and the drama ensues from there. I quite like these enclosed settings and I live in the Midlands, so Brummies on holiday: Sign me up! I always wanted to read something by Catherine O’Flynn anyway.

Villa America

I have already started this one and am by now nearly half way through and I am hooked, this is the second book I am reading set on the Riviera, historical fiction centering around the very real Murphys who basically turned the French Riviera into what it became: a pilgrimage for sun seekers from all over the world. They also apparently inspired one of Fitzgeralds book and I am a smitten kitten and absolutely adore every single minute of this so far.

Fatal Inheritance

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I actually requested this as an arc from the publisher, because I adored the premise and I really enjoyed it. A mysterious inheritance, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who then travels down to the South of France to claim it and gets swept up in the drama and glitz of the French Riviera. Danger and plenty of mystery ensues. Historical fiction, with a hint of Mary Stewart, a touch of Highsmith, perfect for reclining on a deckchair, sipping a cocktail and enjoying this summer. Will be published on the 28th of July.
So, in summary (or should I say: summery): I am a cliche and the weather does clearly dictate what I want to read, eat and drink.
Does the weather influence your reading?

 

Windy, with a side of snow

Last week, weather happened in the UK and we ground to a halt. As a country, we are ill equipped to deal with snow at the best of times (for the most part, it just does not happen enough) but combine this with two stormfronts, well, then you got chaos.

We mainly stayed inside apart from sledging when the wind finally settled on Saturday. And now, today as I look out of the window, the snow is almost gone. Amazing how 8 Celcius can feel almost tropical.

There is a lesson there. And I am not saying that the weather happened for me to acknowledge something to myself, yet the weather totally helped.

For one: I am super creative making the contents of my fridge/freezer last and come up with delicious meals out of sheer nothingness. A tin of tomatoes, some random lentils and bits and bobs of veg made one of the best soups ever. I baked bread. I made oat cookies. Hearty dishes for the freezing temperatures. It pleased me and I am not always good at acknowledging this talent of mine, because a talent it is.

Two: When it comes down to the knuckle, most things can wait. You can just let it all go, because stuff mostly can wait.

Three: As a family we are good at being cooped up with each other. That’s good to know too.

Now the snow is going and it’s back to normality. Soon we shall be in Scotland quite frankly, I cannot wait. Right now as I look out of the window, I see houses and cars. When we are in Scotland, I will see the loch, the hills and maybe a boat.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

I have read quite a few of Farjeon’s books over the years and some of them were quite good, but there is always something that does not quite work for me and with Seven Dead I finally figured out what it is: He is trying to appeal to too many audiences at once. You know some people like the murder mystery, the puzzle figuring out how a murder was committed, others like the adventure stories chasing an “unknown” villain, hunting them down, others love the suspense type books, that keep you on the edge of the seat whilst another group does love a bit of romance in their books, some like a policeman doing the investigation, others love a bystander becoming the sleuth. In this book you have all of that and more. Whilst for the most part it is enjoyable in a way, the conclusion of the book is just silly and so random that if you lived in my neighbourhood, you would have heard a frustrated sigh. A loud one. Still, these days, I adore these books and these re-issues since the Golden Age has become almost of academic interest to me. It’s like a personal research topic for me. So on that note, this one was interesting. 34862888


Paperback, British Library Crime Classics, 288 pages
Published September 4th 2017 by The British Library (first published 1939)
Thanks to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the review copy.

 

Self-care thoughts – Humpday Musings

At the moment, it feels like that wherever I go, I’m bombarded with marketing that tells me if I only buy this product, I am going to feel well. That by buying this, I will look after myself and feel happier. Treat yo’self, woman.

I wonder how long this has been going on and why this year in particular, I can see it everywhere. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like to have a soak in the bathtub in something lovely – though I hate bathbombs – but I do know that it’s not the bath foam that makes me feel good but the actual break I take being in the tub. Allowing myself 15 minutes to just chill. No phones, no social media, no work, no housework, no demands on my person. I even lock the cats out from the bathroom.

I have been thinking lots about self-care recently (hence, why I most likely see it everywhere, it’s called confirmation bias) and what that actually really means. Winter has been taking its toll on me and as I found out yesterday, my Vitamin D levels are once again really, really low. I am not sure, why I have not cottoned on earlier, after all, that happens a lot and I am also not sure why I don’t simply start taking Vitamin D as soon as the autumn equinox is done and dusted. This winter has just been so dark, so cold and so wet, that it’s no wonder that the levels need support (in the form of a Vitamin D3 supplement taken with some good fat – not a doctor, but that’s how I am told to take it). I know that within a week, heck even within days, I will feel so much better. I even felt a lot better just being outside on a mostly, sunny day last Saturday. But yeah, I have been neglecting self-care here.

I am pretty good at prioritizing something that is important to me and that I class as self-care: Reading. Wherever you look, taking time with a book is often classed as one of the key things you can do to relax and to look after yourself. I got that down to perfection as I practice this everyday. I even leave the phone in another room.

Other things, I am a constant work in progress: Asking for help, when I need it, for example. I am so terrible at that. Most women are. Maybe men, too. Getting enough sleep is another, I go to bed early, but I am often up at 4 am, but I hope that the Vitamin D will help with that. Just sit down and do nothing, not even reading a book; I have this odd thing that I always feel the need to something, if I don’t I think I am lazy. Hence why the baths are so important, yet, I often listen to an audiobook while in the tub, so I guess that’s slightly counter productive (yeah, always thinking of productivity, so hard to stop). So I sit down to meditate (I consider that doing, despite it being important), I sit down to read (important) but I hardly ever sit down to just be. You know daydream, stare out of the window and be a bit bored. I miss being a bit bored, my days are so full, that I rarely am bored, but at times I think it’s a good thing, because creativity will come out to play when I am a bit bored.

Self-care is important, it’s a luxury in itself to live in a place where you can sit down in a warm house with a good book and read and feel safe and be healthy (enough). Proper luxury, yet, business tells us, that it’s not a simple thing to do. That we must spend money to feel better about ourselves, download an app (that costs money and forces us to spend more time on our phones), spend money on going to places to experience self-care. I am really concerned about this, because: Are we really losing our ability to just be? Isn’t that a crucial bit that makes us human?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this? Am I alone in my concerns? How do you look after yourself? Or do you even?

Friday Things

It is Friday once again and on Fridays I like to share all the things I have been fascinated by, found interesting and so on.

First of all, I want to invite you to vote in the poll for my Read Around the World Bookclub to select the April book, read here, what the bookclub is and join our Goodreads group if you can. Here is my video for the books suggested for April.

Here is the poll:

The lovely Susannah Conway is doing a new e-course: Your Soul Speaks. It is all about tapping into your intuition, connecting with yourself. I have pretty much done all her e-courses over the years and always got a lot out of it and I am doing it, so join me if you can. The course starts on March 5th, there is still time to enroll.

My lovely friend Milena (she writes about books here) has recommended this website for me which is all about sustainable, plastic-free living. I have reduced our use of plastics so much, but there is always more that can be done and I am looking forward to being inspired reading Pebble Mag.

I have been obsessing about various pieces of classical music recently, I usually listen to a variety but then at times, I hit repeat on a piece for a whole week. In particular, Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor op 85, here performed by the wonderful Sol Galbetta. It was Elgar’s last big work and sadly was not popular in his lifetime as its premier was a debacle. He wrote it just after the Great War and I think you can really sense the grief and devastation and the memory of almost a naivety of the pre-war years and how nothing would ever be the same again. It is now a fairly well known piece and often performed, it is my favourite piece by Elgar, I am not such a huge fan of his pompous pieces. I need to see this performed again, so shall be scanning the programs.

Also: I rather be in this place right now.

And I leave you with this poem. Happy Friday. Happy Weekend.
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