Friday, 25 November 2011

Books - books - books.

It was very fortunate that I had written last week's blog on the previous Sunday as otherwise I could well have missed a week. It was nothing very serious but the eyes were playing up a bit and when that happens I try to keep away from computers, televisions and (very sadly) my Kindle. As most of you know, reading books as such are no longer possible for me but the beauty of the Kindle is that I can adjust the type size so that I can read it. Thus I am now an ebook reader but what are ebooks doing to the world of proper books? To answer that we need to know whether ebooks are bought instead of or in addition to paper books. If it means that more people are reading then ebooks are a good thing but if they are another nail in the coffin of the book shops then clearly that is not. From the little research I have been able to make, I am reasonably sure that ebooks are, on balance, a good thing for writers and for everyone else involved in the production of reading matter. Book shops closing is a different matter and there are, I think, two main reasons. The first is that most bookshops are in places where there are less people: out of town shopping supermarkets and so on mean less people in high streets and that creates a problem shared by many small retail shops, not just book shops. The second is that the power of large retailers (supermarkets and on-line) enables them to command discounts which can result in them being able to sell at prices less than most bookshops have to pay their wholesalers. Again this is not just a problem for those selling books. Thanks to the buying power of these huge chains, dairy farmers also suffer from narrowing profit margins and many are going out of business as a result. I am sure there are many other examples. It is always sad when things change and people get hurt but I am not sure you can point the finger of blame at anyone: change happens - sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

We all need cheering up at this point and since there are no photographs that can illustrate today's blog, I have made a random choice of some of the pictures I have taken of birds over the years.

I digress from where I had meant to go which was to say that as result there really is nothing to report and that is not good news when trying to write a blog. Luckily today (Thursday) the eyes are much better so at least I can offer a few thoughts.

From the back of our garden look over the fields to the east and there, almost hidden by trees, you can see the gable end of a cottage in which live David and Debbie Hurst along with two toddlers - both boys - and a couple of dogs. David is a journalist, a very hands-on father and, thanks to getting up early in the morning  - and I really do mean early - also finds time to write novels. These are pretty grisly crime stories and it would be wrong to suggest that people who like reading Marcia's books would enjoy David's: they almost certainly wouldn't. However, David's journalism includes articles about a wide variety of people including authors and he has been commissioned to write two about Marcia: one for Women' Own and one for a magazine in Dubai. For the latter he asked both of us to name our 'three favourite authors'.

This has proved to be an impossible task. For a start we both read books from many genre. My range includes political theory, detective novels, anthropology, war at sea (factual and fictional),  genetics, spy thrillers (from Buchan to Robert Ryan) and so on. Marcia's is even wider as it includes poetry (which I can rarely understand) and many more novelists than I read. So, in the end, we offered him a list of the three last books we had read.

Mine: Super Cooperators by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield; Early One Morning by Robert Ryan and The Flamingo's Smile by Stephen Jay Gould. Marcia's: At the Source by the poet Gillian Clarke; Learning to Dance by Michael Mayne and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Old friends and a farmers' market.

So ends another season of signings – although Marcia is speaking at the Authors’ Day to be held in Trematon Hall next month. As you would expect, Marcia meets a lot of old friends at these signings and one such was Bob Mann whom she met in Totnes.

How to describe Bob? He plays the tuba but that is the least of his talents. He is a writer: it was Bob who wrote Marcia’s very first review. He is an historian: he and I, with others, have co-authored books on local history. He is a publisher: he owns Longmarsh Press of Totnes.
Bob Mann
He brought with him a copy of a book he has recently published called ‛Ielfstan’s Place’ written by Richard Girling and first published by William Heinemann in 1981: Longmarsh Press specialises in publishing works about Devon which have been allowed to fall out of print. In this book, Richard Girling presents an imaginative evocation of life in and around the Dartmoor parish of Ilsington, from the time of the area’s first human inhabitants to the early twentieth century. He writes for The Sunday Times and as always his writing is superb and a joy to read.

With the signings out of the way. Marcia and I decided we would go to Tavistock on Saturday and see what was on offer at the Farmers’ Market which is held twice a month.
The Farmers' Market where you can buy a huge range of goodies all produced locally. There is one  special favourite of mine I get here: chicken and chive sausages.
I defy anyone to find tastier bread than that found on Hugo Endacott's stall.
On the way back we drove up the Lew valley from Chillington to Lewdown. The trees were looking wonderful: autumn colours glowing in the low sun.

Beech (above) and oak.
There are two rivers in west Devon bearing the name Lew. They rise a matter of a few miles apart but one is a tributary of the Torridge which discharges into the sea on the north coast of the county whilst the one I am going to talk about rises on the north west corner of Dartmoor and winds its way through the Lew valley to Marystow where it joins the River Lyd, a tributary of the River Tamar which meets the English Channel at Plymouth.
The River Lew is typical of many such which rise on Dartmoor being far smaller than you would expect when compared to the wide flood plain. This is because these rivers can produce very powerful flash floods after heavy rain on the tops.
St Peter's at Lewtrenchard where the Rev'd Baring-Gould was Rector for many years and, by the way, where Marcia's God-daughter was married. This photograph was taken back in the spring when the churchyard was awash with primroses, celandine and dandelions.
On the way the Lew passes Lewtrenchard. The Domesday book mentions Lew Manor and the ‛modern’ name derives from the Trenchards, who were the lords of the manor in the thirteenth century. Its most famous occupant was the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) who, apart from being the Rector of the parish and father of fifteen children, was a scholar and novelist with over twelve hundred published works to his name including hymns of which the best know is probably ‛Onward Christian Soldiers’.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Roses, dogs and fungi

 Marcia is on her way to Waterstones in Truro for her last signing assignment. Chris Smale represents Transworld in the west country and is driving her down. Even so I expect her to be on her knees when she returns.
The sky over Dartmoor just before we sat down to breakfast was delightful. Unfortunately, when it was time for Marcia to leave for Truro the sky was a dreary uniform grey from which a cold mean rain was falling.

Generally the signings have been a huge success. Last Saturday morning Marcia and Chris were in Plymouth and the signing there was followed by a wild dash to Exeter through very heavy traffic. Even though Chris knows all the available short cuts the journey took so long that there was no time to stop for any lunch. Her intake on this trip seems to have been two cups of coffee and one croissant: one way of keeping the weight down!

There are always high spots during these signings. Two in particular stand out. Once Marcia returned complete with a bunch of roses brought in as a ‛thank you’ by one reader whilst another brought in her dog. ‛I just knew you would want to meet him.’ He was, by all accounts, a very nice dog and Marcia was delighted to be introduced to him.

You will not be surprised to learn that there has not been time this week for us to go anywhere or do anything very much. There are, however, a few things to report from the home front.

Our pheasants have completely disappeared. Most years whichever male it is that has decided to make the garden ‛his’ during the breeding season hangs around through the winter eating great quantities of expensive corn. Not this year. The sadness is tinged with the pleasant thought that the bird feed costs are much reduced.

Last winter we had male blackbirds constantly squabbling just outside the kitchen and one very tame female not above hammering on the door when she felt it was time for a handful of raisins. They always disappear for a while late February or early March but then usually return with the young once they have flown. Not his year, but for the last couple of days there have been three very nervous males dropping in only to fly off at the slightest hint of movement. We shall have to see how that goes.

Two new arrivals are two species of fungi that we have never seen before in the garden. How have they arrived? How long have they been lurking under the ground? I have no idea. I think they are rather jolly and I have used one of these photographs on my laptop desktop so as to brighten up my day.
Fungi is not my strong point but I am reasonably certain that this is Peziza aurantia otherwise known as orange-peel fungus. If it is then it is not only edible but delicious but I have so little faith in my identification that I won't be having it for lunch.
Definitely Marasmius oreades or the fairy-ring champignon.Although not poinonous (unlike Cliticybe rivulosa which often grows alongside it) I understand to be somewhat tasteless. Let me know if you think I am wrong.
I have decided to buy some ‛plant root trainers’ and to sow some sweet peas and runner beans in them. I had heard of these only recently but it does seem to be a good idea. Essentially they are are very deep but quite small plastic tubes and the idea is that they ‛train’ the roots to grow longer than usual and avoid the risk of them compacting into a tight ball. ‟Roots! ‛Shun!″ I shall keep you posted.

Friday, 4 November 2011

What weather this week! I know that it is very British to go on about the weather but when you live where everything changes so dramatically it is difficult not to. Mind you, those living on the east coast of America where they have had such early heavy snowstorms probably feel the same way.
First day in November: the sun is shining and it is so warm that Marcia and I drink our morning coffee outside sitting on the bench on the terrace looking down into the pond garden.
Looking down towards Cornwall. The tree to the right is a black mulberry that was given to Marcia by her previous publishers, Hodder Headline, about ten years ago.

It is all very odd this year. There is an azalea which has just come into flower. Stupid plant, does it not know that it should be waiting until late February? The azalea isn’t the only early bird – the mahonia too is in full flower. Meanwhile some of the nasturtiums are still blooming as are some gazanias: both plants should have given up a couple of weeks ago. 
I suppose the most surprising thing was that Marcia picked some sweet peas and put them in a vase on the kitchen table. Sweet peas in November: unheard of.
Looking out from the kitchen as I write this (it’s now Wednesday) there is a watery sun but the ‛courtyard’ is still looking pretty good. We are surrounded by wonderful autumn colours. Nothing like the great swathes of maples in Canada, of course, but just as beautiful in a subdued and subtle way.
Over the last few weeks we have often woken up to magnificent dawns. Not this morning. The valley was filled with mist and you can barely see the fields opposite the house let alone Dartmoor. It's nice to see the sheep back in this field which has been empty for weeks.
Poor Marcia is juggling with lots of things just at the moment. This is making writing more difficult than usual and, on top of everything else, there was a leak in the bathroom which resulted in her study ceiling being badly stained. Dennis Hunt, who has looked after the decoration of the house ever since we bought it, is busy in there painting it. He was working there yesterday as well: stopping the cracks that had developed and I must say he has done a fine job. I had a feeling we might have had to re-plaster parts of it. Because the outside of the house is rendered and painted, Dennis refuses to allow us to grow anything up the walls and absolutely nothing like virginia creeper or ivy. Dictator!