Month: June 2019

The Hundred Day Project Day 89: Dust and a Boat

My book for today is The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman. It is the second volume of The Book of Dust and the full contents are a closely-guarded secret at the moment. This is actually a good thing as the catalogue will be largely finished by then – this will be another book for which everything stops.

Lyra is now a young woman, having jumped from the baby in La Belle Sauvage and the girl of His Dark Materials. In the little (much too little) sample that it being handed out, Lyra is in a narrow boat, headed towards the fens. She seems to have gained more magical powers, which is perhaps not surprising but, shockingly, Pan is not there and Lyra describes him as ‘a traitor’. It will be a long wait till October but, as part of my rereading plan, I’d like to reread Once Upon a Time in the North, the three volumes of His Dark Materials and Lyra’s Oxford. That way, when the new one is published, I’d have read everything in chronological order. 

Boat 15.


Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth will be published on 3rd October, hardback, £20. As always please order or buy it when the time comes from your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it closed.

The Hundred Day Project Day 88: Unruly Costumes and a Boat

This is another discovery from the Hatchards Children’s Department. As so often, I was seduced by the pretty jacket. Midnight at Moonstone, written by Lara Flecker and illustrated by Trisha Krauss, is a very beautiful book. The pages are edged with lace, the expressions on the faces of the costumes on the front cover give you an idea of what is to come and the flaps (it is a posh paperback) are lovely. In every way the story lives up to one’s expectations.

Kit has a world-famous father and an older brother and sister who are both high achievers. In a family of talented people she seems . . . ordinary. When she fails to get into the school her father is set on she takes matters into her own hands and goes to stay with her grandfather at Moonstone. The curmudgeonly old man is anything but welcoming, his mind occupied by the impending closure of his costume museum. This is the point at which Kit, and the costumes, come to life. The story manages to be both hilarious and nail-biting with rivalries between the costumes and the ever-present threat of a particularly unpleasant developer. 

Lara Flecker trained as a costume maker and the book even has a section at the end where the costumes are described. Inspired by costumes in museums around the world, it is fascinating and my only (very minor) quibble with the book is that I wish I’d know it was there at the beginning.

Boat 14.


Lara Flecker, Midnight at Moonstone is available in paperback, £6.99. As always please order or buy it from your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it closed.

The Hundred Day Project Day 87: An Umbrella and a Boat

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher tells the wonderful story of a mouse who joins the Resistance in France during the Second World War. Pip and her parents live in an umbrella in Mr Smith’s shop in London. When a bomb falls her family are killed and her home destroyed but Pip is determined to reach the Umbrella Museum at Gignese in Italy, where her relatives live. With the help of Dickin, a rescue dog, a Hans, a rat who has escaped from Germany, she manages to cross the Channel with the umbrella, which she refuses to leave behind. But this is 1944 and crossing France is no easy matter for a small mouse carrying a full-sized brolly. Based on real animals and people the story now tells of her adventures with Noah’s Ark, the little-known arm of the Resistance led by a hedgehog.

Boat 13.


Anna Fargher, The Umbrella Mouse is available in paperback, £6.99. As always please order or buy it from your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it closed.

The Hundred Day Project Day 86: A Circus and a Boat

In a way, it is The Night Circus, Erin Morganstern’s first novel, which has caused the present disruption. I read it eight years ago but it has remained one of my favourite books and I have probably recommended it to customers at Hatchards more than any other book. I obviously could not delay reading her second book, and now I also want to reread this one.


The beautiful and magical Cirque des Rèves has black and white stripey tents and is only open at night. Contortionists, illusionists and acrobatic kittens, all black and white, perform during the hours of darkness.

This is the stage on which Celia and Marco, two young magicians, must compete for supremacy, in a contest neither fully understands. A magical love story set in an enchanted circus; what more could you want?

Boat 12


Erin Morganstern, The Night Circus is available in a choice of paperback editions, £8.99. As always please order or buy it from your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it closed.

The Hundred Day Project Day 85: Books and Boats

At the moment I am looking after the Children’s Department at Hatchards and starting to write the shop’s Christmas catalogue. I have filled the children’s tables with books I like, a mixture of old favourites and new discoveries. For the catalogue I am being sent lots of new exciting books which will be published in the autumn. Everything was under control until the arrival of a proof copy of The Starless Sea, Erin Morganstern’s new novel.

Her previous book, The Night Circus, was published in 2011 and is one of my favourite books. When I opened the package containing The Starless Sea, I knew everything else was going to have to go on hold. I wanted to read this, regardless of what I should be doing. Emails, book proposals, poetry research and even boats were pushed to one side. This week’s posts will be books and boats, combined.

In The Starless Sea there are doors in this world which lead to another below, with limitless layers extending deep into the earth. Here space does not behave normally; in the Harbor upon the shores of the Starless Sea there is a seemingly endless library of tunnels and rooms in which stories are stored. Old and new, some are in books, others buried so deep that they are left ‘loose and wild’. This world descends deeper and deeper below the surface of the earth, with the Sea rising and falling between the layers and the Harbor adjusting its position accordingly. The characters move between the layers and worlds, their stories meeting and merging in a way which is complicated yet magically logical (if such a thing is possible). A story, a sword and man are lost. The book concerns the quest to find them but there is much more: love, death, excitement and, above all, wonder.  The story and its setting match perfectly.  

Having just finished reading it, more than anything, I would like to turn back to the beginning and read this book again. But I can’t, I’m already behind with everything else. Last week a child came into Hatchards with a paperback Harry Potter, I think it was The Deathly Hallows. Clutched in her hand it was bent and battered, having obviously been read several times. I have often thought I would like to set aside a year just to reread books. The Starless Sea would be one of the first I’d go back to; I feel I’ve missed much which a slower reading (and a little hindsight) would reveal. Perhaps one day.

The Starless Sea is published on 5th November – the perfect time to sit by the fire immersed in a book. Buy it or borrow it, read it slowly and enter an enchanting world.   

And here is a boat, Number 11.


Erin Morganstern, The Starless Sea will be published on 5th November, as a beautiful hardback, £14.99. As always please order or buy it, when the time comes, from your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it closed.

A Hundred Days Of Making Day 84: A Botanical Plate?

This painting of squashes and gourds was put together very quickly after a buying raid on the local farm shop last October. Individually they’re reasonably satisfactory, but arranged against a slightly suspect blue background as if they were going to be the subject of an illustrated plate for a book entitled Growing Pumpkins and Squashes For The Amateur Gardener.

It would have worked better not only with the composition adjusted but with fewer colours on the palette, but like yesterday’s subject it’s acceptably good within its terms of reference.


A Hundred Days Of Making Day 83: Something A Bit More Peaceful

While I get my act together on portraiture, and have to recognise my painting fell off the edge about a week ago and has yet to recover, I’ve raided the reserves of old paintings. This one was done last year around Remembrance Day, hence the poppies, the gourds and contrast between the decaying fruits and the glossy Worcester bowl.

It’s certainly not a great picture, but unlike the last piece of face painting, it works OK within its limitations. Tomorrow, more gourds and squashes, but looking a bit more botanical.