The first time I met myself was a few years ago. Once again this Easter, after a day of travelling, I arrived at last at the houses in the midst of the forest. And there I was! As if I’d never been away! A disconcerting sensation, a time-shifting eclipse. As if my conscious self in the UK had been switched off, just as the awareness of my Swedish self powered on.
It was as if I’d walked this gravel road every day, not just for the two weeks over Easter. One spectacular afternoon I witnessed the sun searing through the trees.
The forest itself proved startlingly alive, alluring; the air brimming with oxygen, the colours clear and vibrant. Certain events, unknown to my Swedish self, reminded me that I had not been there after all. When did the big fir tree topple down? Or rather break away as a neighbour later pointed out, the top half cracking away from the main trunk, to land neatly in the birch copse.
By the coast the combination of sea, sky and rocks struck me anew, the views intoxicating, like a punch of joy to my heart. My other self had let me down, let me forget this body blow of beauty.
The blues all around were broken up by the array of colours of the rocks, the stark trees, the dainty flowers growing in the granite cracks.
Here and there people had contributed to the enjoyment with a sense of fun creating a child’s seat set amongst the rocks.
The two weeks were filled with overwhelming joy, laughter, conversation. Where walks transformed into meditations, where books became all-consuming, where thoughts sought and found clarity in the vastness of nature.
How could life be anything but this?
Yet I return home … my other home, to my other self. Yet the one in Sweden clings on to my spirit, not quite ready to release me from its hold, my soul swooping amongst the trees, across the waters.
I am here, yet there. I’ll never forget standing on the deck on Good Friday, gazing at the full moon in all-consuming awe of epiphany. The pink aura transported across space to minuscule us! The magic of the cosmos captured in a finite second. There am I, part of the wilderness, here am I, longing to return.
“We carry our homes within us, which enables us to fly.” John Cage
I never imagined the evening would end up with me making a paper boat.
‘It’s quite easy,’ one of the organisers reassured, ‘just fold like this.’
With intense concentration I looked on, thinking the little boat was the perfect symbol for this year’s Essex Book Festival. The theme was ‘Uncharted Waters’, inspired in part by the 80th anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Secret Water’.
Wow! How far I’ve travelled this March —to India and back as well as to the 19th Century! All whilst remaining firmly seated, listening eagerly to authors!
In January I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend & children’s author Josie Dom to the media launch of the festival. I was thoroughly inspired by the event and speakers including the renowned patron of the festival A. L. Kennedy. A winner of many awards including the Costa Book, A. L. Kennedy had me spellbound with her talk. Afterwards I found myself standing next to her but was overcome with shyness and utterly speechless!
The figures for the book festival are staggering. In this, its 20th years of existence, it is the biggest in the country, with over 130 events at 45 venues. The variety of events is amazing with such innovative interactive experiences as The Human Library, numerous writing workshops for all ages, storytelling, poetry jukebox as well as a host of author talks/interviews.
I went to a number of author talks and will feature two of these here. Each one was unique, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable! My first impression was how well-attended these all were; filled to capacity with lots of engagement with questions and discussion. In a world where we worry the population is reading less and less, I found the active and informed participation by the audience a postive sign that the love of books is well and truly alive!
The first talk I attended was by Vaseem Khan and I was intrigued how an elephant fits into a crime story. The author of ‘Baby Ganesh Detective Agency’ books, Vaseem spoke eloquently and passionately about his own route to writing. Born near London and an avid cricketer, his work took him to India twenty years ago and it is here he started to write.
It was with the creation of Inspector Copra that he found an agent and quickly a publisher. He weaves the wealth and poverty of modern India brilliantly into his novels, and in this knowledgeable talk I learnt a lot about the country from 3000 years ago to the 21st century. Vaseem was inspired by his father (who sadly had passed away just ten days earlier), who, when faced with difficult situations, said: ‘To change the narrative.’ Vaseem has done exactly that with this unusual series of books set in India, refusing to depict the Bollywood image nor the stereotype ‘happy slum dwellers’. It is hard to believe that these books are written early in the mornings before Vaseem starts his full-time job as a management consultant. A meticulous planner, Vaseem Khan sets aside three months for planning each novel before spending another four months to write it.
I was smitten by the talk and the books and although I didn’t have time to buy a book on the day I did download the first in the series entitled ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’. I’ve just finished reading this. It’s thoroughly immersive and captivating (and my heart was definitely with the elephant!). This book definitely deserves the accolade of being in the vein of the hugely successful (and loved by me) Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series.
Below is the blurb for ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’.
‘On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovers that he has inherited an elephant: an unlikely gift that could not be more inconvenient. For Chopra has one last case to solve…
But as his murder investigation leads him across Mumbai – from its richest mansions to its murky underworld – he quickly discovers that a baby elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs.
So begins the start of a quite unexpected partnership, and an utterly delightful new series.’
The next talk featured Bridget Collins, a full-time author who has already published seven YA fiction books. However, she decided to venture into unknown territory with her book ‘The Binding’ which quickly became a Sunday Times bestseller. At the time of writing, Bridget was unsure which market the book would suit; on completion her agent liked the book and advised her to rewrite it for the adult fiction market. The book winds the author’s interest in bookbinding with that of her work in the Samaritans and at its core is its exploration of memory. It sounds spellbinding and mesmerising!
Having trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bridget Collins has a freerer approach to her books – with the main concept and theme in place she is amenable to being led by the characters or situations in her books.
The presentation of the book is stunning with its sumptuous paper cover, ex libris page, gold foil on the spine and hardback. This is a book that looks almost too beautiful to read. My signed copy has pride of place on my bookshelf and I can’t wait to read it.
Here is the blurb:
“Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.
In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.
Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.”
Finally, as regards the origami boats, the Essex Book Festival has pledged 1,000 of these to charity for visitors to inscribe with their personal message of love and friendship … mine is still settled safely on my desk, waiting for the right moment to sail away, carrying its message afar!
As I am away on an Easter break at the moment I will not be able to reply or visit blogs as much as normally; please know I will catch up as soon as possible and always I look forward to discussions.
My spirit has been flying these past few weeks! Evenings and weekends I’ve had the joy of listening to my son as he composed FLY WITH YOU. As if by magic the melody appeared and the layers of instruments gradually added to the composition.
It’s been a privilege to follow the stages of the song till its completion, along the way I’ve been taught how to attune my hearing to the individual instruments and sounds, shown how the piece sounds with and without the different elements! Who knew that the slightest hint of an instrument helps to build the foundation of the whole?!
Although, I should not be surprised … isn’t it just so in life? As Vincent Van Gogh believed: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
So it’s with great pride that I present FLY WITH YOU.
“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.” – Rumi
May we at all times recognise and remember the truth of Rumi’s words!
Many thanks for reading and listening to this post – and wishing you a wonderful final day of March and a beautiful April ahead!
Imagine you’re writing to a reader in the future! To a new soul, yet to unravel the magic of books! What would you say to them? Would you share stories from your own life? Or inspire them with passionate prose or perhaps offer up playful poetic musings?
Just such a request was sent out to writers, scientists, artists, and other cultural trendsetters across the globe by Maria Popova. One hundred and twenty-one letters were received including ones from Mary Oliver, Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, from composers, philosophers to a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor.
Over eight years, together with her publisher friend Claudia Bedrick, they collated the letters, matching each of them with an illustrator, artist or graphic designer … bringing each letter individually and vividly to life!
I read about the creation ‘A Velocity of Being’ last year and ever since couldn’t wait to hold this treasure of a book in my hands. Although released in January, they had underestimated the demand and my book finally arrived last week.
With deep reverence I opened the box, with surgical skill (or so I liked to think) I cut gently through the tightly wrapped cellophane. I’m sure I heard a drum-roll as I opened the pages and started to read … my heart singing in harmony with the emotions and thoughts of the letters.
Here a just a few snippets:
“No matter where life takes you, you’re never alone with a book, which becomes a tutor, a wit, a mind-sharpener, a soul-mate, a performer, a sage, a verbal bouquet for a loved one.” Diana Ackerman
“Yesterday I swallowed a book. Opened it, read it voraciously, then gulped it down in a single sitting. … A book, and the universe within, is the touchstone for today, yesterday, and — wow, I can’t wait to find out what I read tomorrow.” Anthony Horowitz
“A writer can fit a whole world inside a book. … . Somewhere, is a book written just for you. It will fit your mind like a glove fits your hand. And it’s waiting. Go and look for it.” Neil Gaiman
Following the dark, often stormy, winter there couldn’t have been a better time to bring in some light! During the past few weeks I’ve seen several bloggers receive an award that brightens our days as well as theirs. Imagine the surprise, honour and delight when, within a few days, I received the double accolade of The Sunshine Blogger Award!
The Sunshine Blogger Award is a peer appreciation award given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.
Thank you so much to the two bloggers for thinking of me for this award. I deeply respect them and I always savour their posts, learning along the way, sharing their enjoyment of life, travels and books and I’m overjoyed for them and their publishing success! If you haven’t visited their blogs before, I highly recommend you head over … you’re in for a treat!
Darlene at Darlene Foster’s Blog mentioned me first. She is the author of numerous children’s books based around the central character of Amanda and she has also had several short story wins and some published in anthologies. She blogs about her books, writing, travels, family. She divides her time between Spain and Canada.
A few days later Brigid at Watching The Daisies also kindly nominated me for The Sunshine Blogger Award. Brigid’s posts resonate with wisdom and calmness, attributes reflected in her hugely successful book Watching The Daisies which is an Amazon no. 1 Inspirational Irish Memoir. On her blog Brigid shares news about her book, as well as articles on travel, health, book reviews, nature, gardening, recipes and healing.
Rules for the award:
Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
Nominate (at least) 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog
Here are the questions I received and my answers:
What was the driving force behind the creation of your blog?
First and foremost I wanted to share my experience of writing my first novel!
What was your vision for your future in blogging/writing when you first started this blog? How has that vision evolved?
Within a couple of weeks I realised that this this single-minded focus for my blog was untenable. My blog would quickly become dull and dry. Also there was so much more I wanted to share so I happily started writing about books, travels, nature, traditions, my short stories. Later I shared the journey of the publication of my first book, a collection of short stories, entitled The Storyteller Speaks.
What age were you when you realized you loved writing?
I was at primary school in a small Yorkshire village and think I was about nine-years-old.
How has your life changed as a result of the electronic age? Is it better/worse/the same?
On many levels electronic devices has made life so much easier. As a gadget-nerd I’ve always enjoyed using the latest devices and remember my mother with one of the earliest Apple computers at work, as well as seeing the magic of a fax machine! The internet, although filled with so much dark material, is still a positive force and how many of us don’t ‘google’ something everyday. As soon as I saw the iPad I longed for one and had to wait for prices to fall … it is my go-to device, for news, blogging, reading, writing (with aid of Bluetooth keyboard).
What was the very last website you visited today?
I love the eclectic nature of the blogs I follow and just as I was writing this a I received a notification that GP Cox at Pacific Paratrooper had put on a new post.
If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?
I was dreadfully unhappy in one school (an all-girls) for two years when eleven and twelve-years-old … one day I finally broke down and told my mother just how utterly miserable and depressed I was there and I never returned. I flourished at my next school and am still in touch with my friends from then.
How would your life be different today if that one thing from your past were to change?
To be honest, probably not too much as the warmth and love from home meant I recovered quickly and could see the problem wasn’t with me. It did steer me away from single-sex schools for life and I didn’t want that for my son either.
If you have children, tell me…how did your parenting change from the time you had your first child until the time you had your last?
As I only have one child I can’t really answer this one. I always used to joke that I would be far more relaxed and not so anxious with a second child – but I doubt this would have been the case! What I can say is that being a parent changed me absolutely and I could never imagine my life without my son. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I am so lucky and it is real!
Tell me about the funniest experience you’ve had in the past month.
Ever since I was a baby I have approached new foods with trepidation … and this is still the case much to the amusement of my family and friends.
Thinking it might be a good idea to go ‘healthy’ I decided to try Benecol and one Sunday morning the little bottle stood eagerly on my placemat. I looked on fearfully, my husband gulping his down enthusiastically, showing me how to do it!
Hmm… I sniffed the white liquid anxiously and still wasn’t convinced. I then went into my default mode and called my mother and told her I had a ‘scary prospect’ ahead of me! Concerned she asked what it involved and when all was revealed she just laughed and said, ‘That’s my daughter’. ‘Could I put it on my cereal,’ I queried? She wasn’t sure. I stared at the bottle and it glared back. The stand-off continued!
A while later I took a minuscule sip – it was delicious!! I now look forward to my new morning addition!
What do you have planned for the upcoming holiday season?
My husband and I are soon celebrating our 20th Wedding Anniversary (where did those years go???) and are travelling a few days to the beautiful island of Jersey. The hotel is just on the beach, overlooking the bay and I am already giddy with excitement!
Finally, to the nominations!
I am aware that some of you might have received this award before or have an award-free blog, in that case please view this award as a compliment. There is no obligation whatsoever to respond.
My questions are the same as those posed to me.
My nominees of bloggers who spread sunshine and inspiration are:
It’s a delight to take part in Jacqui Murray’s Blog Hop for her latest novel, ‘Survival of the Fittest’!
Her previous books have taken us from the modern subterranean world of nuclear submarines and terrorism to an era over 1.8 million years ago at the very start of mankind’s development.
‘Survival of the Fittest’ is set 850,000 years ago and centres around five tribes with one leader as they face a treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.
As the blurb succinctly describes:
Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.
As with all fiction writing, there is often an overlay of fact but with a book set so far back in time one wonders how much is artistic license, how much can be based on true fact? I put this question to Jacqui with regard to one angle in the book.
Survival of the Fittest hints at a spiritual side to man. Is that accurate?
Scientists have no idea when man’s spirituality started. Because 850,000 years ago (when Xhosa lived) is considered prehistory—before any sort of recorded record—there’s no way to tell. Survival of the Fittest offers one speculative theory of how that could have happened.
Finally, below is the beginning of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and I as read the whole chapter kindly forwarded by Jacqui I found myself hooked! The story is thoroughly captivating and I was drawn immediately into Xhosa’s world, feeling her pain, fears, her strength! The writing is superb, taut, fast-paced whilst not rushed and the upcoming themes and plot lines are clearly outlined! Will you be as tempted by this extract as I was … a copy of the book is now on my kindle and I can’t wait to read it! Purchase links are below.
Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.
She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.
Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.
Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.
But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.
With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.
“Why haven’t they left?”
She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…
From the very first sentence I knew this would be a book review like no other!
“This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.”
As I continued to read Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s review of my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’ I was increasingly awed by its imaginative approach, masterfully weaving the analogy throughout whilst describing my observation of human life, writing style, the book and some of the stories.
Her favourite story is one close to my heart and she captures its essence beautifully.
‘My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:
“A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.”
While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.’
I am honoured and touched by this latest review of my book and I am sure you will be enthralled and captivated by Sharon’s unique review which you can read in full on Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare.
For this post I have turned off comments and look forward to your thoughts and discussions on Sharon’s blog. Thank you so much!
‘The Storyteller Speaks’ is available to buy on Amazon, here are the links for Amazon UK and Amazon US.
The old and the new sit easily side by side in this beautiful town on the east coast of England. Established as a borough in 1529, Aldeburgh was formerly a Roman settlement, then a small fishing village before prospering when the coastline opened up and brought trade and shipbuilding to the town. The North Sea connects across time, lapping now, as then, along the undulating shingle shoreline.
I was here with my family for a quick break during school half-term and we were blessed with unexpectedly warm sunny days. It was heavenly and rejuvenating to enjoy this blissful weather, to feel so alive.
Aldeburgh is famed for its music, literature and arts and it is the birthplace of the composer Benjamin Britten. He founded the famous Snape Maltings, ‘- a place of energy and inspiration, one of the world’s leading centres of music’ – which is located nearby but we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from the sea views!
No fears, there was more than enough to enjoy along this unique coastline. The hotel was a few steps from the beach, and it was fun to slip-slide along the shingles as we explored the area! From the waters edge we had a tantalising view of the picturesque houses in all their various colours. Two-thirds are now holiday homes for private or rental use which must have an impact on the town as a whole.
‘The Mill Inn’ is a local pub dating back centuries and its dark beams and low ceiling provided an atmospheric setting for lunch. I sat back and imagined the shenanigans of the smugglers who frequented this establishment!
Opposite the pub is the striking and historic Moot Hall, which now stands proudly near the beach but at the time of being built would have been a mile from the coast. This wonderfully striking 16th-century building was the town hall and amazingly this is still its main purpose, as well as housing the town’s museum.
Set to one side is a stone seat, perfect for reclining and enjoying the view. My husband noticed the rusty sign above; the alcove was a place for people in the stocks to take a break before activities resumed! Luckily I could enjoy the long distance views in the knowledge that a calm and peaceful day lay ahead of me!
The unusual clock on the building is actually a sundial and the motto translates as ‘I count only the sunny hours.’ Sounds ideal to me!
Two incredible landmarks flag the most northerly and southerly points of Aldeburgh; one a magnificent historic relic from the Napoleonic era (1799-1815), the other very much of the modern world.
The Martello Tower marks the southern point of Aldeburgh beach and is one of 18 towers built along the Suffolk and Essex coastline to keep Napoleon out. This is not the first such tower I’ve encountered from visits to the coast and they are always an awesome sight, sitting by themselves, standing forty feet high with thick walls and wide roofs. I am sure they would have been an impressive sight to any potential invader.
In sharp contrast is the gleaming white dome just north of Aldeburgh. The dome is a nuclear reactor – named Sizewell after the village nearby – and is one of 15 nuclear reactors in the UK. I am in equal measure awed and unnerved whilst looking at the power station!
In between are the coastline and its treacherous waters. Here the sea harbours miles of sandbanks which are often swept by fierce gales which present a real danger to shipping and particularly so during the town’s heyday of its busy seaways in the 19th and 20th-centuries.
Therefore it’s no surprise a lifeboat station has existed on the shore for over 150 years and its existence still plays a major part in the lives of the inhabitants. It was awe-inspiring to learn about the brave deeds of the men and women (all volunteers) of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). In the early years the wooden boats were powered by sail and oars and in 1899 one such rescue ship was overturned by a giant wave soon after being pushed out to sea. Tragically seven out of the eighteen crew died as they were fatally trapped beneath the hull.
The modern-day lifeboat is an All-Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named ‘Freddie Cooper’. This remarkable boat has been launched out to emergency situations seventeen times in the past two years whilst the inflatable lifeboat has been on thirteen missions. The courage required cannot be underestimated as the weather is often appalling and the crew face massive waves, reaching an incredible and daunting ten metres (thirty foot). Since its inception the lifeboat crews have saved the lives of nearly 700 people!
No travel post would be complete without a mention of the replenishments along the way and we treated ourselves to several culinary delights throughout our break. As well as the pub, we enjoyed the first ice-cream of the year outside. Resting against the edge of a small wooden boat we enjoyed the delicious and rather large small scoop of maple and walnut ice-cream. The evening meal at the hotel was sublime; a delectable feast and we savoured every morsel. For dessert I could not resist the Crêpes suzettes with Grand Marnier, oranges and vanilla ice-cream
There are of course always gulls by the seaside and Aldeburgh was no exception; their evocative call creating a rush of happiness within me. I felt at home! At exactly the place I was meant to be!
Beaches are a haven of discarded objects, and the nautical theme from the array of boats around us continued as we came across this huge anchor resting on the shingle; the red and golden hues of its rusty exterior blended in perfectly with the coloured pebbles.
Thank you very much for joining me on this brief tour of my visit to Aldeburgh and I hope you found it enticing and enthralling; as you can tell I was, and am, thoroughly smitten with the town and outstanding coast! I will be back!
I remember the splash of the waves against the side of my grandfather’s wooden boat, my brother standing proudly by the mast.
I remember sitting in the back, snuggled like a chick under my mother’s arms, the sea salt and my long blond ponytail lashing my cheeks.
I remember being passed to land like a bag of sugar, an exulted terrified scream then the freedom of the warm rocks beneath my feet. Away I sped, an uninhabited island awaiting exploration by five-year-old me.
I remember our trusted blue Opel Kadett swaying in the sling, over land, over the ship; a pendulum of our future. To stay, to go. Awed, fearful, I awaited its plunge to earth.
I remember the car’s thudding descent to deck, the rousing cheer from family on shore, a cheer that turned to tears as the giant ship eased from the dock.
I remember the confusion. Why cry at this adventure?
I remember my guilt. Should I cry too? A guilt often repeated.
I remember the hastily arranged assembly. The morning’s floor wax still potent and sickening. A keening nausea as we heard the news. Mr Kewley died last night; the incomprehensible words sought comprehension in my nine-year-old heart and mind.
I remember the poke in the chest, the verbal jibes, and the scornful faces. ‘Why aren’t you crying?’ they taunted. ‘He was your favourite teacher after all. Taught you all that creative writing rubbish.’
I remember the searing slurs.
I remember my silence. Shaking my head as I walked away, not shedding a tear.
I remember once home just sitting on the sofa, stroking patterns of light and dark gold, the softness reassuring, safe. Not the usual TV or books. Just space. To think. Here the disbelief turned to truth.
I remember my mother’s concerned questions. Then we rocked, me as a baby in her arms. We both wept at the loss. This was my first death; I had been lucky.
I remember my first kiss, stolen across a lilo, the warm Mediterranean Sea lapping my body as I paddled languidly to land. My first kiss! A moment I will always remember, bubbling with excitement, with unadulterated joy of being so grown-up.
I remember splashing along the shore, the air mattress dangling loosely in my grasp, ripples of emotions echoing into eternity.
I remember my feigned indignant recount of THE kiss to my mother. A secret I’d pressed like a diamond to my heart to treasure forever. A secret bursting to be shared.
I remember her brief questions, her sweet smile. ‘We are meeting later,’ I declared. And so we did!
I remember the strums of the bouzouki, the warm light and night, seeing people on the dance floor, chatting at the tables. There he was! Heading over to me. Almost swooning, a maelstrom of emotions rushed through my body. We had a quick chat. He asked my age. ‘Fourteen,’ I replied nonchalantly. A surprised look flittered across his face then quickly vanished as he invited me and my family to meet his family. I was stricken!
I remember rueing my young age.
I remember longing for its return.
I remember a normal spring day, the German lesson in the Portakabin going as usual. My five friends and I. Unflappable Mrs Stockums at the front. As normal in the sixth form we discussed topics with ease and determination.
I remember the quiet giggles. Who was it? Katy? Sally? Chris? As a fast moving contagion the laughter skipped from student to student. Side-bursting laughter. We tried to rein it in. Honestly. Amidst the uproarious chuckles, we cast furtive nervous glances to our teacher. Was she laughing too? Impossible!
I remember the cacophony of pure happiness. At life itself. Such a jubilant sound of innocence and delight at being. We barely dared look at one another, such was the danger of setting off another cascade of stomach-churning laughter.
I remember the ache of my side, the slam on the teacher’s desk. ‘Go outside,’ she mumbled, pointing at the door. ‘Ten minutes then come back silently. And sit apart.’ The biting breeze startled us as we marched up and down, calming the inexplicable immersive laughter. It hadn’t quite disappeared but already I was mourning its departure.
I remember those summers of sizzling sun, drifting in dinghies along thirsty riverbeds.
I remember those school days, whether good or bad, always coddled at home.
There is a word in Japan for unread books left to pile up around one – tsundoku! I’m guilty of a few tsundoku collections of books; ones bought with well-meaning and tingling anticipation. Somehow they become unintentionally forgotten and lay precariously balanced with other books, dangling over the edge of shelves.
Often treasures of literature are hidden among these and this is the case for one such book which I recently extricated from a listing pile and eagerly I started to read the book.
‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ by Lulah Ellender is a gem! I was hooked from the very beginning and it is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.
The beautifully crafted book is an eloquent memoir based on the life of Lulah’s grandmother. A life recorded in meticulous detailed lists; lists which were entrusted to Lulah by her own mother.
The lists started during Elisabeth’s childhood whilst growing up in 1930s China. Just as her father was a diplomat, so was her husband, Gerry and her world travels continued into adulthood. The lists, many innocuous and of everyday items, included information about packing, dinner parties, price of food and even the names of hens and number of eggs laid. The lists are endless. A touching heirloom in their own right, they have been transformed into a moving and heartfelt book by Lulah. Her research and dedication are superlative and the end result is a sweeping and engrossing story of Elisabeth’s life.
Postings abroad included Madrid under Franco’s regime, post-war Beirut and Rio. In sharp contrast Elisabeth endured the hardship and deprivation of bombings and food rationing in England during World War Two, whilst at the same time finding a certain peace and harmony as a normal suburban housewife, away from the hectic duties of a diplomat’s wife. Throughout the book the various eras are exquisitely captured and provide a vivid impression of the times.
It was not all a joyous time however, as occasional bouts of depression, some post-natal, forced Elisabeth to seek medical care and time away from the family. Furthermore, a family tragedy darkened her life.
The book develops into a deeply profound study as Lulah weaves the threads of her own life and that of her mother into the memoir. The three generations of women effectively become the focus of this family story; their lives remarkably intertwined and the memoir gives not only insight and comfort about motherhood, family, and loss to Lulah but also to the reader.
Even more heartbreaking and poignant is that the book is written whilst Lulah’s mother is terminally ill with the cancer; the very disease which killed Elisabeth when her daughter was only nine-years-old. As Lulah delves deeper into Elisabeth’s life she finds some solace and acceptance in her own life; a process which she describes with exceptional clarity and feeling.
As she must feel, I believe that without our past, our present is unclear, our future unnavigable.
To conclude, ’Elisabeth’s Lists’ is an enriching, gifted and rewarding book and one I highly recommend.
I just want to add that I had the privilege of briefly meeting the author following a talk in March 2018 as part of Essex Book Festival. Her intelligence, warm and kind nature sparkled and she spoke with ease and confidence at great length without any notes whatsoever!