Friday musings

It is hard to not be fully absorbed by the whole Brexit thing especially when as a European citizen in the UK, it could potentially have such a dreadful impact on your life. Yet, I don’t want to write again about Brexit and the idiocy of it all, the useless politicians (Caroline Lucas being an exception here), that if any of us did our work like they do, we would be fired, blah, blah, blah. I bore myself with it.

As always when things happen around me that I cannot change, I resort to books. Reading is and has always been the only form of escaping my head that truly works. In particular, historical mysteries, but as you know, I read all sorts. So, all things that must be done are done with speed and efficiency so I can retreat to the sofa or my bed with the book. At this point, it feels like it’s the only thing I can do.

I also had a lovely reply about some nature writing by writers of colour in form of a crowdfunded online magazine, called the Willow Herb Review and it is wonderful and has cheered me so much today and reminded me how wonderful the internet can be, you seek, you ask and then someone will say, oh yes, that thing you are seeking it’s here, come and have a look. Small things that make all the difference.

I made marmalade this week, which is a January tradition to banish my January blues and then promptly dreamed that when the government is banning me from the UK, I was not allowed to take my (English) family and not even a single jar of marmalade, because I was not British enough. But I did not really want to write about this kind of stuff, today, but it just creeps in everywhere like sand from the beach which will be found in shoes and bags for years to come.

As most weeks, I envy my cats who are so not touched by what is going on, but I like to kid myself that they can feel that I am overwhelmed and worried and like to hang out with me more. That the paw reaching for my thigh is a reassuring gesture rather than a “human please feed me” move. Like most pet servants, I am convinced that my cats truly love me and understand me. I guess this illustrates perfectly how mad I am, but since I am not the only person to do this, I would consider this a socially acceptable form of madness.

The asthma is still bad which meant that I opted against a walk today. Birmingham does its best to reassure us that air quality is good, but trust the asthmatic: it’s not. The last couple of winters in particular, I really felt it. I know that us with poor lungs are naturally not seen as a measure of things, that it has to become so bad that those with super healthy lungs complain too before anyone even listens. Not going outside though is hard, but my lungs do need a break. Looking forward to being back in the Angus Glens, after a few days up in Scotland my lungs always improve.

But then, will we be able to go at Easter what with Brexit. Argh, there it rears its head again. It’s freaking everywhere, I cannot think any thought for more than three seconds before Brexit flashes in big neonlights.

I shall leave at this juncture and drink some coffee and read a book.

Nature Writing and writers of colour

As someone who loves nature, the advent in recent years in nature writing has been very exciting. When I cannot be out there myself, I do quite like to enjoy the hearing the experiences of some accomplished writers in the field.

I have followed publishing long enough to know that these kind of fields (pun?) are normally mostly dominated by male writers and some serious effort has to be put in to find more female authors once you ticked off the well known ones like Helen Macdonald and Kathleen Jamie. There is a list on Goodreads for Irish and British Nature Writing and of the 175 books, only about 20 are by women and some of these books are over 100 years old (Hello old friend, “Diary of an Edwardian Lady”). So things are not that great, but I guess that’s a pretty normal picture across publishing, after all more men get published than women.

But then, I thought: Hm, I really would like to find some writers of colour who write nature non-fiction. And so my search began. And I came up with not much. Found a couple of essays, some US based books but personally, I prefer my nature writing to be set in places I know or are about to visit. And that made me wonder why that is? Are there writers of colour with manuscripts waiting to be published, but because there has been no precedence no one is publishing them?

I would love to see some British and Irish nature writing by authors of colour. If you know of anything that has been published or is about to be published, please let me know.

Reading Through the Ages

Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since Victoria (Eve’s Alexandria) and I announced the Reading Through the Ages reading challenge for 2019.

I am slightly uncomfortable about the word “challenge” as challenge always sounds like something that is hard to do, even harder to achieve and just generally a pain in the neck. Homework.

We really want this to be anything but that. All it is, is to encourage people to read more historical fiction in 2019.

For me personally, that is not hard, historical fiction is the genre I read the most of, but naturally everyone is different. I see this challenge as a good way to first and foremost walk to our TBR piles and look at the books, we have already got and see what may fit the prompts. Then, you can join also our Goodreads Group to find inspiration on the bookshelves there and in the discussions for each prompt.

Victoria and myself will also do videos for the prompts over the year to talk about suggestions, new releases (if appropriate), what we will be reading etc.

I really hope you can join us. img_2563.png

January sucks, ok?!

Every year for as long as I have been living here in the UK, I struggled with January. Previous to 2003, January was just another month, but my first January in England was a shock to the system.

There were some contributing factors that are no longer that relevant, but for this first January back then it was the super-bowl of all things. I had been living in the UK for 7 months at that point and the first excitement and shine of all things new had worn off. I started to get annoyed at things, found things weird rather than exciting. I was frustrated with the work I was doing, which never helps. But the biggest thing was the weather. That first January, there was not a single day of sunshine. The sun did not break through the clouds even for a moment that entire long month. In fact, that year there was no visible sunshine from the 30th of December to the 3rd of February. It was grey, the sky was looming over me as if it wanted to swallow me up whole. At times, it did not feel as if we had any daylight at all. It rained most of the time in one form or another. It was dismal and I got very depressed. (And yes I journalled it all, so I just re-read those pages about that January).

Now admittedly, no January since has been as bad as that first one, but for someone who lived in Southern Germany for 30 years before moving here, it was a shock to the system. In nearly 10 years in Munich, I had gotten used to blisteringly cold January days with wonderful sunshine. You can go to a beergarden in January after a nice walk soaking up the midday sunshine.

Now, I am writing this and naturally, the sun is trying to break through. Still, I have absorbed the gloom into my soul and over the last 14 years, January has become this thing, well, not a thing really, almost a person that is out there to get me.

Most years, I just resign myself to this longest of months and wait for February, which is a bit better thanks to pancakes and shortness (I also make Fasnetskuechle, which improves EVERYTHING). Some years, I have tried to improve the month by making exciting plans. Making marmelade, meeting friends, going bookshopping (it is a fact that most of the books I buy in a year are bought in January) – yet still, I am low, cranky and moody.

January is also a notoriously a slow month for me as a freelancer. Work is coming in in drips and drabs, mostly due to my clients (mostly German) taking their winter holiday to go skiing, most likely enjoying blue, sunny skies as they venture down the slopes. So jealous. This used to depress me so much, that for years now, I have set google reminders each day for January saying: “Remember, January means hardly any work: Read, go for a walk, make marmelade, nap.” (actual text)

Most days in January, you will find me in bed with my book straight after dinner. By the time, 7pm rolls round, I am just done with the day. I am upping my dose of Vitamin D by doubling my intake, take zinc and magnesium. Drink my happy tea. Read light books. Or at least books that interest me. And still, it all just sucks.

I know that come February, it will go uphill. I have a holiday in April to look forward to. I know it will be fine, and that makes it a bit easier looking at the diary and seeing the 7th January date looking back at me. It feels like we are on day 345 of January already, but no, the diary says different. Still, for 11 years of the month, I prefer to live in a northern climate and would not change it for the world.

Oh well, I best go and make some marmelade while I stare forlornly at my work email account which is barren and quiet.

Happy Sucky January.

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A picture of January 2010. See that sky? That sky wanted to eat me. Also, this was taken at midday and brightened afterwards. 

A good start to 2019

Freaky Halloween Eats

Normally, I spend the time between Christmas and New Year reflecting on the year gone by and make some plans for the New Year. I am not one for resolutions, but I do like to ponder what the New Year might bring.

In between the years, I fill out Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook and think about a word for the coming year, kind of to set the scene. I have been doing all of these for the past decade and have gotten much enjoyment from this in the past.

This year, however, I feel myself unable to do this. The year ahead frightens me, what with Brexit, having to register myself on a list as an unwanted person in the UK, all the global issues, the planet. Like a child, I just want it all to be ok. All of it. Someone please come and wave a wand and make it so. This is naturally not going to happen, but because of it, I don’t feel in a space where I would enjoy making plans or even reflecting back.

So this January, I just treat this month like any other month. I will plough through my to do list. Cook food for my family. Look after myself both with regards to my fitness but also my mental wellbeing and this will all just have to do.

I never really bought into the whole New Year, New You kind of thing anyway, but making plans has always been part of who I am. I shall see if the not making plans feels good to me. Or even better.

The only thing really, I am very excited about is the Reading Challenge I am hosting with Eve’s Alexandria on goodreads and youtube: Reading Through the Ages. A year of reading historical fiction. Kind of fitting, really. The present seems so baffling, let’s look back. Maybe we can learn something. Join us, if you want.

Happy New Year, may it bring you blessings.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

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There are books, that you just know you must read and Blood & Sugar is one of them. Then I saw that it had an endorsement by C.J. Sansom, which tripled my excitement and then it became the Bookseller’s One to Watch out For in January 2019.

The story set-up is simple. It’s 1781, Captain Harry Corsham is a returned war hero with an illustrious political career in front of him, when one day out of the blue, the sister of an estranged friend shows up at his door to say that her brother has gone missing after visiting Deptford and if he could enquire as to his whereabouts. Deptford had been at the time one of the most important ports in the UK for the overseas trade bringing in a steady supply of sugar and tobacco and thus heavily involved in transporting humans for the slave trade.

What I adored most about the book was the fact that it portrayed a Britain that was not completely white, it often irritates me that authors create this past that is whiter than white. This book deals with the facts of Britains ambiguous stance on slavery even then as in slaves could become free in Britain if they managed to get to court before they found themselves on a ship to the West Indies and yet, how the slavery lobby was so powerful it basically trumped everything. It must have been a situation of horror having claimed your freedom, yet, worry about abduction of yourself or your family members all the time.

I also loved how the author dealt so skilfully with Corsham’s constant struggle to decide what to do: The thing that is easy or the thing that is right. That is so skillfully done.

I believe this to be a standalone but I hope there will be other books by this author as I thoroughly enjoyed this debut. If you like the books by C.J. Sansom or S.G. MacLean then I think, you will like this one, too.

My Reading Year 2018

I contemplated whether or not to make a video about this, but actually, this morning I thought, this lends itself far better to a blog post than a video, so here we go.

2018 has been a fantastic reading year for me. I discovered a couple of authors that have become instant favourites (I am looking at you Kate Atkinson in particular) and with regards to historical fiction in particular, I just found so many gems.

I also kept a reading spreadsheet (and almost entered all the books as well, go me) and it revealed…. not that many surprises.

About 80% of the books I read have been written by women. Historical Fiction (including both historical mysteries and histories) is by far the genre I read the most and well over 50% of my reading. I increased my reading of books authored by writers of colours significantly and this is now almost 25% of all the books I read last year, room for improvement, but still, I am pleased as the year before it was only 8 books (which roughly accounted to about 4% of my reading).

I have read well over 200 books again and before anyone says “how do you read so much”, let me just tell you that reading is (and has been) my prior form of entertainment and when people normally would spend hours watching Netflix box sets, you will find me in the corner of the sofa reading. Or in bed, I do like to read in bed.

So here are some of my favourites.

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Barbara Pym has been a favourite of mine since I discovered her through a real life (I hate that expression) bookclub. She is in my mind along with Elizabeth Taylor one of the best character writers of the 20th century. Unlike Taylor though, Pym is very funny. Her characters normally attend a local church and her exploration of High Church vs. Low Church is so English, it is hard to put it in words. She makes me laugh, she also makes me think. And her characters are wonderful, that’s after all what matters.

Paperback, 277 pages
Published 2013 by Virago Press (UK) (first published 1958)

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One of the best things I did in 2018, was my Harder Conversations project where I read books about what it means to be a person of colour in the UK and the publishing industry obviously found out about this and published some great books. Ok, well, maybe, they did not do it just for me, actually everyone could benefit from reading some of these books. All the books were great, but Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) overall was the best one for me. I read it right at the beginning of the year and I followed the journey of the book and author along ever since.

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging
by Afua Hirsch
Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published February 1st 2018 by Vintage Digital

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This year, also saw the publication of more installments in some of my favourite books series and I know that Tombland will feature heavily on all the historical mysteries lists, I though I highlight this one again, because I think if you like C.J. Sansom, you would also love S.G. MacLean. MacLean is a Scottish writere and she is a historian, which you can easily tell by the wonderfully researched books. The Seeker series (this book is the third in the series and the fourth is coming out in 2019) is set during Cromwell’s Commenwealth and the Seeker is an Officer in the New Model Army.  The mysteries are clever, the depiction of the era are engaging and the Seeker is a character that I have become deeply attached too, similar to MacLean’s other series, the Alexander Seaton series set in Scotland with Charles I on the throne.

Destroying Angel (Damian Seeker #3) by
S.G. MacLean (Goodreads Author)
Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Published July 12th 2018 by Quercus

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One of the Classics I read this year and will remember for a long time is Susan Ferrier’s Marriage. Dubbed as the Scottish Jane Austen, I expected the same level of plotting and story as in Austen book, but as so often the similarity is simply that of two women writing books at roughly the same time in history. Ferrier’s book is very different from Austen, but still wonderful. And naturally, I adored the fact that this was looking at the differences between Scottish and English folk. Not much has changed.

Marriage by 
Susan FerrierVal McDermid (introduction)
Paperback, 544 pages
Published December 28th 2017 by Little, Brown Book Group (first published 1818)

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My favourite debut has been without a doubt, Anna-Marie Crowhurst’s The Illumination of Ursula Flight. I am still annoyed that a certain Mermaid book overshadowed this gem of a historical fiction novel, due no doubt to deeper marketing pockets. Having read both of them, I have to say that Crowhurst’s book is in my opinion the more rounded and inventive novel. Set in Restoration England, we follow Ursula from her birth into her adult years and experience England and what it was like to be a woman in that fragile period of Restoration. I really hope this book makes it on the Walter Scott longlist and shortlist next year. Either way though, Ursula and Crowhurst have a place in my heart and I shall read anything that author writes in future.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight
by Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 3rd 2018 by Allen & Unwin

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I adore nature writing and there is always a few each year that I pick up, but I am picky with regards to nature writing. I want it poetic, but not too poetic. I don’t mind a tangent, but if there is more tangents than anything else, then I get bored. I like the personal story, but it has to be done just right. Yes, I am very picky, but this book by Neil Ansell, the Last Wilderness ticked all the boxes. I could identify with so many of his thoughts and in particular what stuck with me was the author’s admission that for him it is no longer about walking to hit certain milestones or even covering certain miles, no, it is just about being out there. In nature, rather than clocking up the miles, just so you can say that you walked 15 miles.  I listened to this on audio via audible.co.uk and the audiobook is wonderful.

The Last Wilderness, A Journey into Silence by 
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 8th 2018 by Tinder Press

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Nora Krug’s Heimat has been a very personal read. We are off the same generation of Germans, as in that our parents were born either during the war or at the end of the war and that we felt the collective guilt over the war and the holocaust, but never really knew or found out what it was that our family had done during that time. Were they guilty and if so, to what degree. You may think that this is a book just for Germans, but it is not, this is a book for anyone who wants to understand the concept of collective guilt and lots of tidbits in this book, you probably had no idea about.

Heimat: A Memoir of History and Home
by
Hardcover
Published October 4th 2018 by Particular Books (first published October 2nd 2018)

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A series discovery for me, naturally historical as this is what I like best, has been the Sir Robert Cary Mystery series. Originally published in the 1990ies, Head of Zeus has been re-issuing them with more modern covers. Again, if you like C.J. Sansom then this may be for you. Based on the very real Sir Robert Carey, it follows his life events but the mysteries are “made up” or rather, the author used events she come across in her research and used them. So the books do feel very real. I adored them and am planning on continuing with the series in 2019.

A Famine of Horses (Sir Robert Carey #1)
by
P.F. ChisholmPatricia Finney (Goodreads Author)
Kindle Edition, 296 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Head of Zeus (first published 1994)

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It’s not all just historical fiction, I also adore fantasy and especially weird fiction and my favourite this year has been Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. I love the exploration of what it means to be a mother and mothering, the need we have to care for someone against an “end of the world” kind of scenario. Loved this book, still thinking about it although I read right at the start of the year. That’s how good it was.

Borne
by Jeff VanderMeer (Goodreads Author)
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux

I re-read The Poisonwood Bible this year with a group of fellow booktubers and was very excited for Kingsolver’s new book Unsheltered. Both the re-read and the new release were wonderful. I can honestly say that I have loved all her books (and yes, I have read them all over the years since I first discovered her in the 90ies). There is some joy in re-reading a favourite and then being able to discuss it with others, even – and in a way in particular if – they don’t quite love it as much as you do. And Unsheltered just had my head nodding in agreement, it’s like she gets me.

Unsheltered
by  Barbara Kingsolver
Hardcover, 463 pages
Published October 18th 2018 by Faber Faber (first published October 16th 2018)

Thanks for reading and joining me on this reflection. For more bookish content, check out my youtube channel.