Books

Holiday Reading

First, a warning: I’m afraid this is a ridiculously long post – but there was no way round it as it contains seven books and several discoveries. I went to Edinburgh recently and, as always, based my reading on the rhyme from The Stockmistress of the now-closed QI Bookshop in Oxford:

Something old, something new, something made-up, something true, one that’s here and one that’s there and one that could be anywhere.

Something old: Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I have not read this since I was about ten but an erudite friend who is a poet rereads it every year. I was curious as I simply remembered a rather charming story about a capable water rat, an over-excited mole and a ridiculous toad. How wrong. The descriptions are the things that make this book special; wonderful glimpses of countryside, waterways and picnics:

 

The Water Rat’s picnic for the Seafaring Rat: ‘Then he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask containing bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.’

Or the Otter’s description of snow: ‘My! it was fine, coming through the snow as the red sun was rising and showing against the black tree-trunks! As you went along in the stillness, every now and then masses of snow slid off the branches suddenly with a flop! making you jump and run for cover. Snow-castles and snow-caverns had sprung up out of nowhere in the night – and snow bridges, terraces and ramparts – I could have stayed and played with them for hours.’

Something new: Caroline Scott, The Photographer of the Lost

Three brothers enlist in the army during the First World War and, predictably, not all return home. Harry, now a photographer, is searching for his elder brother in France, whilst Edie is searching for the same man, her husband. A man who quotes Yeats to her on their first meeting, telling her to ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. Caroline Scott is a historian so, as one would expect, the story rings true but what is remarkable about this book is the extent to which she has recreated the feel of the period and landscape of war-ravaged France. I really cared about the characters and I found myself sitting for hours in Edinburgh cafes, never quite able to tear myself away from the intertwining tale she so skilfully weaves.

Something made-up: Philip Pullman, The Ruby in the Smoke

In July I rather rashly said that I would buy ‘fewer books’. There were lots of exceptions and a complicated set of rules regarding what I was allowed (known only to me) but I have pretty well stuck to it. This has allowed time for rereading. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials easily stood up to the umpteenth reading, so I am now rereading the first in his Sally Lockhart quartet. It is a Dickensian mystery with Indian palaces, opium dens, a charming photographer and, at its heart, a heroine with a pistol. And yes, it’s well worth a second read.

Something true: Gillian Tait, 111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn’t Miss

I wish this book had been published when I lived in Edinburgh. Admittedly that was years ago and many of the recommendations in the book didn’t exist or were lying forgotten but it is packed with things you might otherwise miss so I’m sure Gillian Tait would have found the same number of interesting things then.

 

I rediscovered the Stockbridge Colonies; small, affordable dwellings built for and by skilled workmen and artisans in the nineteenth century. They are ingeniously-designed terraces of ‘flattened cottages’ with raised front doors on one side of each terrace so each flat has its own private entrance and garden. Situated alongside the Water of Leith, these properties are now ‘highly desirable’ in estate agents’ parlance and humble artisans have probably been priced out.

The book also introduced me to Dunbar’s Close Garden, just off the Canongate on the Royal Mile. The series of courtyards looked lovely, even on a cold, damp, foggy day (the Scots have a word for this: dreich, which perfectly describes the grey skies and thick mist which is almost rain but not quite). In the seventeenth century this area was outside the city, just beyond the grand but heavily-fortified Netherbow which was one of the six points where people could cross the city walls. The area consisted of spacious mansions, outside the cramped city and conveniently close to Holyrood Palace. Forty years ago Dunbar’s Close Garden was created to give an idea of the terraced gardens attached to many of these houses. The structure ensures it looks good year-round but the planting merits several seasonal visits.

Another discovery was Dovecot Studios. This is a swimming bath converted into a weavers’ studio. You can look down from the gallery, which also hosts exhibitions, and see the weavers at work. It’s fascinating to watch them but the building is also a stunning piece of Victorian architecture with graceful arches and rooftop windows.   

One that’s here: Alexander McCall Smith, The Importance of Being Seven

Whenever I go to Edinburgh I read one of the 44 Scotland Street books. Many years ago I lived a couple of streets away and Alexander McCall Smith captures the area and its residents perfectly. Starting one of the books is like meeting up with an old friend after a long gap; there are no unpleasant surprises, it is gentle, funny and yet surprisingly thought-provoking. If you have ever stayed in, lived in or even just visited Edinburgh’s New Town (actually largely Georgian) I cannot recommend them highly enough. But you must read them in the correct order: 44 Scotland Street is the first.

One that’s there: Kate Atkinson, When Will There be Good News?

When the fifth Jackson Brodie novel Big Sky was published this autumn I decided to read the earlier ones again. Each story is complete but the back story about Jackson develops through the series. In this, the third, he is again embroiled in a slightly unbelievable series of coincidences but it doesn’t matter. The books are excellent and definitely stand up to the test of rereading. The crime is there but doesn’t dominate and Jackson definitely passes the charisma test – I’m not a huge fan of crime unless there is a charismatic detective (Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, or Kyril Bonfiglioli’s the Hon. Charlie Mortdecai: ‘Degenerate aristocrat, amoral art dealer, seasoned epicurean, unwilling assassin and knave about Piccadilly….’).

One that could be anywhere: Neil Gaiman, Stardust

A young man goes on a quest to find a star to win the heart of the woman he loves. So far, so usual. But this quest involves the land beyond the Wall – the land of faery, and three princes and a witch are racing against him. Reasonably enough, the star herself does not wish to be taken by anyone. The story gallops along with the urgency of a traditional fairy tale enlivened by Neil Gaiman’s amazing imagination. Another book which gives more with each reread.

Jane

These books should be easily available at ‘all good bookshops’, please buy them there, if you can, rather than from a characterless online site.

Making Week 15: More Boats, Finally

For the last few weeks I have been treading water as far as these posts are concerned. When Ann Wood first wrote about the Hundred Day Project, way back in March, she warned that it was important to have a plan for the bad days. Recently there have been a lot of days which have been busy rather than bad but the end result has been the same. The plan for these weeks was to make boats and bunting and castles, improve my drawing and push my making. Instead of which I have relied on patchwork to fill the posts.

My job as the Shop Scribe at Hatchards is always uneven; the year is split into times when I work long hours and other times when I barely do any work at all. Now I’m used to this, I love it. The past few weeks have been taken up by the Christmas Catalogue, which is now done. It is in the shop and has been sent out and is, I trust, solving everyone’s Christmas list problems. It’s full of lovely books, is very pretty and I hope there will be something for everyone in it. If you’d like to be sent a copy, just email the shop (books@hatchards.co.uk). If you’re after recommendations Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth was, predictably, my favourite book. The runners up were Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum, Restoration Stories by Philippa Stockley and Scent Magic by Isabel Bannerman. The first is fun and the second two are full of houses I’d like to live in and ideas from Isabel Bannerman’s garden that I want to incorporate into my, admittedly much smaller, plot.

I now have almost six weeks of only working in the children’s department one day a week and I want to make the most of the time. Here are the next six boats for the bathroom bunting – numbers 41 to 46. 

Jane

I would obviously like readers to visit Hatchards and buy the books but I appreciate that may not be practical for everyone. If you can’t come to Piccadilly, please buy them from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

Poetry, by Chance

Some years ago a chance conversation between two editors standing by the coffee machine at the publisher Pavilion resulted in these books.

It is probably safe to admit now that, at the time, I hadn’t read much poetry since school. I’d bought poetry collections and anthologies. I’d even left them in conspicuous places in the fond hope that I’d get into the habit of regularly reading poetry. And, for a time, I would. But then, gradually, the book would move down the pile until, a few weeks or even months later, I would rediscover it and start again.

Being asked to compile an anthology of poems about London seemed like a dream come true. I was (and still am) very fond of London, I was curious to discover the city in verse and I wanted to read more poetry. Now working on my eighth collection, I am so glad I said ‘yes’ when I was asked. Actually pretty well all the occasions I’ve said ‘yes’ and taken a slightly blind leap into the dark have been good decisions. It’s mostly the ‘no’s’ that one regrets.

Friends, A Poem for Every Day of the Year has just been published and I’m at the stage where I regard it as a favoured child. There is a joke amongst my friends that I can walk into a bookshop and spot my books at fifty paces. This one is, I think, particularly pretty. I can say that as I had no hand in the design other than to say ‘Oh yes, that’s beautiful, thank you.’ The brief was that the poems had to be about friendship, rather than love, which was far harder than I had expected. Most poets are obsessed with love (or the lack of it); a seemingly innocent verse would end up with the poet looking at his muse lying naked in bed or the charming subject of the poem would suddenly open the buttons of her blouse to reveal……well, you can imagine. Fairly soon I realised that the people we love should, ideally, also be friends, which widened the scope. It was a delightful anthology to compile. I deliberately chose poems that were uplifting and spent my days reading about life-long friendships, faithfulness and fun. I hope the collection will do the same for readers.

This may be my new favoured child but I am still fond of its sibling, Nature, A Poem for Every Day of the Year. Particularly since they look so charming together.

Jane

Obviously I would like you to buy these books. As always, I would like you to buy them from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

“Istanbul, A Tale of Three Cities” Bettany Hughes.

Istanbul is, for the adventurous, one of the best cities in the world. Bettany Hughes’ book about the “Three Cities” of the book’s title  is a delight to anyone who has enjoyed visiting that wonderful city straddling Europe and Asia. It has successively been known as Byzantium, Constantinople and finally Istanbul: the three cities of the book’s title.

Hughes describes how settlements of sorts have existed on the site of Byzantium, otherwise known as Byzantion, for some 8,000 years. By 670 BC it was a recognisable part of the wider Greek world, and by the fifth century BC was mentioned by Herodotus as the site of a pontoon bridge linking Europe and Asia.

She tells the story of how Byzantium became increasingly linked to Rome as the centuries passed and was formally incorporated as a province of the Empire in AD 73 by Vespasian. Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvain Bridge in AD 312 was a turning point in its history. By 330, it had become Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and subsequent seat of the Orthodox Christian church.  Its empire went through complex and brilliantly outlined cycles of growth, decline and humiliation before its final conquest by the Turkish Emperor Mehmet in 1453. However, throughout all its travails it preserved a remarkable Imperial court, distinguished by amazing and complex ceremonial.

She analyses the process by which Byzantium’s Turkish conquerors brought not just death and destruction but new vigour to the fallen city, so, as Istanbul or Stimboli it became the centre of another great power. The Ottoman Empire at one stage was so powerful it threatened the existence of the entire Christian West before it gradually decayed until its final defeat and dissolution as a consequence of the First World War.  Modern secular Turkey, under the leadership of Gamal Ataturk, emerged from its ruins after even more appalling bloodshed and hardship. Only thereafter did Turkey’s administrative capital move to Ankara, an efficient modern city, albeit one that has never had the slightest impact on the human imagination.

The book relishes not just the history of events in Istanbul but the enduring myths of which it was the subject: their imaginative strength inspired W B Yeats to write Sailing to Byzantium, “Into the artifice of eternity..” to “become a golden enamelled bird, in preference to any natural thing” singing “to keep a drowsy emperor awake of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

Hughes is a serious academic, a successful television historian and vastly experienced as an archaeologist. These qualities help her make sense of a city where numerous different physical remnants and cultural symbols and signifiers lie jumbled over, above and alongside each other in great confusion. She records, explains and popularises the long and eventful story, and the enveloping myths, of a city that has been a key element of world history for most of recorded time.  She writes “But, for me, Istanbul’s cultural and emotional strength comes from the fact that city’s narrative is not confined by lines in time. It is a place where people are connected across time by place, which is why I embarked on the Heraklean, sometimes Augean, task of using clues in the landscape to tell a story of this city from prehistory to the present”.

She dissects the Roman Via Egnatia from the debris of time. From its construction in the second century AD and running from Dyracchium on the Adriatic (modern day Durres in Albania)  to Istanbul the road, now often hidden or buried, has survived as a trade and invasion route for nearly two millennia.  The Milion, that old milestone, that still, just, survives in central Istanbul, marks its eastern end as a mere historical curiosity and indicator of distances in the fallen Empire. More importantly it is an enduring symbol of continuing trade, invasion and change over nearly two thousand years.

Istanbul fascinates us not only because it is beautiful and wonderful to visit, but also because it continues to be filled with events and personalities that are at the centre of Middle Eastern life and politics. Bestriding two continents, and straddling many different nations, beliefs and ways of living, Istanbul is certainly not going to go quietly into the night as President Erdogan of Turkey tries to enforce an increasingly hard political, religious and cultural line on what has for much of its life been seen as a liberal and inclusive city.   Hughes’s achievement is to make sense  of the ways in which Istanbul’s past and present, like Yeats’s verse, elide, conflict and influence the future of what is very much a continuing work in progress as well as home to many millions of people and a source of fascination and pleasure to all those who have visited it or know it in their imaginations.

Chris (more…)

J G Ballard’s “Vermilion Sands”, A Trumpian Dystopia?

Although more readers have probably encountered Ballard’s “Empire of the Sun” than his science fiction, the latter genre arguably contains his best and most interesting work of which many peoples’ favourite is “Vermilion Sands”. First published as a whole in 1971 (the image below shows the original cover), the book is a collection of short stories, written over the previous two decades.  All are set in the eponymous fictional beach resort, (which might have certain similarities to Palm Springs), filled with futuristic technologies and weirdly decadent characters of great wealth and very limited merits.

The use of the word “vermilion” in the title, incidentally, is most unlikely to be accidental (Ballard was scientifically trained, had studied medicine at Cambridge and worked for a period as assistant editor of a chemistry magazine), rather referencing the traditional artists’ pigment, made from lethally poisonous mercuric sulphide, whose manufacture and use cost the lives of many involved in the process.

Run down and isolated after an undefined ten year “recess”, the surrounding deserts of red sand are gradually encroaching on the fading buildings and failing lives of the inhabitants, many of whom, including the narrators of every tale,  are in some way “artistic” without having any very great artistic merit. They are abetted in their mediocrity by technologies such as singing plants, poetry-writing machines and light-responsive paints all of which allow previously inert or insensitive materials to respond to the moods and feelings of the humans (or it is sometimes suggested “mutants”) with whom they come into contact, often with disastrous consequences. There are no heroes in these stories, simply a collection of narcissistic and deeply damaged film starlets, singers, trust fund heirs and artists, together with their freakish servants and self-serving suppliers, all of whom are further harmed and often die as a result of their interaction with the strange technologies the stories reveal.

In “Prima Belladonna”, for example, the narrator owns a business, Parker’s Choro-Flora, supplying genetically modified, and highly temperamental singing plants and especially orchids, to customers throughout the world. These require constant tuning like a horde of unruly pianos, using a range of acid and alkaline media applied to their control tanks and taking their lead from the valuable Khan-Arachnid orchid that has  a vocal range of twenty four octaves and is Parker’s prize stock item. When a travelling singer, Jane Ciracylides, with a “good deal of mutant in her”, her golden skin and “insect eyes”, arrives in town she both starts an affair with the narrator and appears on the verge of carrying on another with the orchid. In Ballard’s words “The Arachnid had grown to three times its size. It towered nine feet high out of the shattered lid of its control tank, leaves tumid and inflamed, its calyx as large as a bucket, raging insanely. Arched forward into it, her head thrown back was Jane.” She appears to escape, at the least disappears, and the next day the orchid is found dead. Nothing in these stories ends well.

Ballard has managed to imagine many of the worst effects of digitisation, data transfer and genetic engineering some seventy years before these begin to be generally viable. The real art of course lies in Ballard’s writing and the curiously painterly and surreal quality of his descriptions of settings which seem to mirror Dali or de Chirico. Describing driving through a a particularly sinister piece of desert in “The Screen Game” Ballard writes “The hanging galleries of the reefs were more convoluted and sinister, like the tortured demons of medieval cathedrals. Massive towers of obsidian reared over the roadway like stone gallows, their cornices streaked with iron-red dust. The light seemed duller, unlike the rest of the desert, occasionally flaring into a sepulchral glow as if some subterranean fire-cloud had boiled to the surface of the rocks. The surrounding peaks and spires shut out the desert plain, ….” He continues “Abruptly, around a steep bend the reefs and peaks vanished and the wide expanse of an inland sand-lake lay before us… The tyres cut softly through the cerise sand and soon we were over-running what appeared to be the edge of an immense chessboard of black and white marble squares. More statues appeared, some buried to their heads, others toppled from their plinths by the drifting dunes. Looking out at them this afternoon, I felt, not for the first time, that the whole landscape was compounded of illusion, the hulks of fabulous dreams drifting across it like derelict galleons.”

One couldn’t possibly describe the world of Vermilion Sands as in any way normal or pleasant, but it is deeply fascinating and a most captivating construct. Somehow one just wonders whether this imaginary extension of an entertainment centre for shady people in sunny places may represent the future for a technology obsessed USA in locations such as Donald Trump’s Mar a Lago or Jeffery Epstein’s strange mansion. Whatever, it’s an excellent read, however weird. If you want to buy, try your local independent book shop first, because without your support it may just not be there next time you need it.

Chris

Making Week 3: Six More Boats & a Bit More Structure

Boats 17-22, so I am heading in the right direction.

I have realised though that it is one thing to merrily say I’ll put up a Making post each week, it is quite another to set aside the time now the daily structure has gone. I then remembered a book I read before I started the Hundred Day Project: The Creative Habit: Learn it & Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp. It’s not the sort of book I usually read but Ann Wood had recommended it, so I gave it a go. I’m sure a lot of what she says is obvious to a lot of people but much of it was new to me – I took twenty-two pages of notes. Okay, twenty-two pages of a fairly small note book with drawings interspersed but it was for more interesting and useful than I had anticipated and I didn’t want to forget what I read. One of her most important points is that creativity is a habit, one which can be learned. I tend to think ‘I’ll make something when I feel creative’ but that is quite likely to happen when I have to do something else and then the moment passes. If you get into the habit of setting aside time on a regular basis (and there are other tricks such as developing a routine or ritual, creating the right environment and committing whole-heartedly to the project) then, the chances are, you will be already set up when the creative urge strikes. She says a great many other interesting things on the balances between creativity and craft, passion and skill but, for the moment, what I need is the basic habit. One day a week will now be devoted to Making – given a capital M so it takes priority over pottering in the garden and is on a par with work.

Jane

Oh, and do buy the book, but from a real bookshop please.

The Hundred Day Project Day 91: Stars and a Nautical Mobile

The stars in the title are those that shine down on the Italian countryside, watching over people dining at long wooden tables, beneath vines and bougainvillea (yes, I know the photo is clematis but it’s the nearest I can manage in my Fulham garden). This is the image Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood conjures up. Set in 1933 it opens with Beatrice, the seventeen-year-old star of the book, up to her knees in mud. She is studying glow worms but this is not suitable behaviour for a young lady. She lives at Langton Hall, ‘a crumbling Gothic monstrosity’ and her parents are desperate that she should ‘marry well’ so the family home can be saved. But Beatrice has other ideas; she is passionately interested in science and would love to explore the world and even get a job (remember this is 1933) rather than simply be married off to the nearest available rich young man.

In an attempt to tame their daughter, her parents send her to spend the summer with Uncle Leo in Italy. The last time they saw him he was a strict, formal man, married to Aunt Thea, upright, formidable and very correct. Aunt Thea has died but he is about to marry a respectable widow. What they don’t realise is that Filomena, the respectable widow, is a delightfully free-thinking sculptress who has brought out the bohemian side of Leo and filled the house with writers and artists, including Ben, one of the most charming young men in fiction. Bea blossoms in the unconventional atmosphere, learning to mix her beloved science with an understanding of art and an appreciation of life in general. It’s a funny, moving book that takes a lot of inspiration from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and is an ideal read for a warm summer’s evening.

I’m only a third of the way through but this was perfect as almost the last book I’m going to buy ‘for some time’. It is a combination of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, three of my favourite books. I just need to ensure that Hatchards has a plentiful supply of Under a Dancing Star and buy Laura Wood’s earlier book, A Sky Painted Gold.   

Boats eleven to sixteen have become a mobile. I’d like to have lots of boats hanging round the house gently wafting in the breeze (this will work well even in winter as the windows don’t fit very well). The success of the plan will depend slightly on what Matilda the cat thinks of them. She has a tendency to launch herself at interesting-looking objects with little thought for the consequences, which could be unfortunate both for her and the boats.

Jane

These books should be easily available at ‘all good bookshops’, please buy them there, if you can, rather than from a characterless online site.

The Hundred Day Project Day 90: Japanese Gardens and Boats

Monty Don is one of my favourite writers. Long before he graced our tellies I bought The Observer every Sunday, purely because he wrote a weekly column. Even now a friend saves the articles in the Daily Mail for me. I have read all his books except, inexplicably, the ones about visiting gardens around the world. Great Gardens of Italy, Paradise Gardens and, now, Japanese Gardens sit on my shelves unread. I even have two books from his telly series: Around the World in Eighty Gardens and Extraordinary Gardens of the World, both largely unread. There is no logic to this. I buy the books keenly, look at the pictures, leave the book on the ‘soon to be read’ pile on the kitchen table and then put them on the shelf when I need the table for eating, or cooking, or more books.

Having resolved that for the next year I shall read or reread books I already have, I decided to read Japanese Gardens properly. I should have known that this would be much more than a simple description of gardens. There is a fascinating piece on the importance of space, which the Japanese divide into ma (significant space) and mu (empty space). Years ago an inspired pottery tutor told me that in drawing, the spaces in between are as important as the objects themselves. I followed what he said without quite understanding what he meant, until now: ‘A tree that is beautifully pruned holds the sky in its branches like a pose’ (Monty Don). As a bonus from reading this book I may now be able to draw a bit better.

There are descriptions of making stone lanterns and English Japanese Gardens (Tatton Park). I am now also closer to being able to appreciate the point of Japanese gardens – whereas in many Western gardens the aim is for the garden to look as natural as possible while appearing to do very little (wild gardens are actually surprisingly hard work), Japanese gardens are manicured within an inch of their lives to appear ‘natural’. It’s as if nature doesn’t know what it should be doing and needs to be helped to a better naturalism. And, to a certain extent, it works; many of the pictures here show stunningly beautiful gardens which use the ‘borrowed views’ beyond in a seamless display. Many of the gardens use moss as ground cover and actually moss doesn’t do scruffy well in the same way that long grass and meadows do. Towards the end of the book I found myself scrutinising the pictures and inwardly tutting if there were too many stray leaves on the otherwise pristine mossy surfaces.

The point of this book is not to act as a guide to the gardens (although it does this extremely well) but to enable the reader to understand and appreciate a system of garden design and gardening that is so different to our own. At one point Monty Don goes to a house to be taught how to make kokedama, moss balls which support miniature house plants for people who live in tiny, immaculate houses with no gardens. He describes himself as a feeling like a muddy, over-excited Labrador, who needs to be kept away from the furniture and made to sit quietly. I have always imagined that is how I’d feel if I visited Japan – too big, too bouncy and too unpredictable. Consequently Japan has always been fairly far down the list of places I’d like to visit but, thanks to this book it has now notched its way a bit further up the list.

Boat 16.

Jane

Monty Don & Derry Moore, Japanese Gardens, hardback, £35. 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 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.

Jane

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.

Jane

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.