The Bookish Nature inquisition


Bookish Nature lately rang the doorbells of a few blogs and left a Lieber Award, a token of appreciation which is then shared by answering eleven questions and choosing another eleven blogs for the award. Like the contestant in The Sound of Music singing competition who just won’t stop bowing, I’ve duly answered every question. You’ve been warned.

1) Why did you start blogging?

A friend suggested it. I’d drawn a line under the work I’d been doing for the last few years, couldn’t work out where to go next, but was lucky enough to be able to take a break for a while. But in that space it just happened that family, etc., were suddenly dependent on me in a way I’d never experienced… and the energy needed to restart just wasn’t there. A blog was a way to collect some of the things that inspired or inspire me, to get me going again… to just put stuff down without feeling self-conscious or bothered about perceptions. In my early youth I studied literature and critical theory: it put me in a place where I felt at home in lots of ways, but it also left me feeling a bit stranded from things I loved, things which many of that mind-set underestimate and dismiss. There’s a danger of losing the ability to just enjoy without awareness of cynicism, whether it’s your own cynicism or other people’s. Looking back to the things I liked as a child, in this blog, was a path to shedding that feeling.

2) You’re going on an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to a far flung part of the planet. Where would you go? And what would be the one luxury item you would pack in your rucksack?

Somewhere with plenty of ‘interesting’ individuals… how about Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley? Life-affirming but enrichingly melancholic too. I’d take a decent jumper – it would have to be pure new wool, but nothing too folky. There’s something assuring about wool jumpers or sweaters or whatever you want to call them… being enfolded in something natural, timeless and universal.

Moominvalley Tove Jansson

3) If you lived in the same parallel universe as Lyra in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, what animal would your daemon be? Or, put another way, what settled form would you hope it would adopt, and why?

I immediately want to say otter, but just because it’s my favourite animal doesn’t mean we have anything in common. Yet they must have qualities which attracted me. They’re a little bit aloof but not in a stand-offish way; like their privacy and probably stay up late – my brain is at its best sometime after 9pm, which is probably quite ottery. They also seem to have quite a straightforward and child-like sense of inquisitiveness, if only in what catches their interest; and then there’s a sense of contentment to their slumber which is always something to aim for. I like rivers and streams too: the lazier ones are an instant fix of Zen-like calm, especially if you can dangle your toes in them. Just a shame I can barely swim. My daemon could be quite hare-like though – they look like they fret a lot and something about them suggests they don’t suffer fools gladly.


4) If you had the chance to step into a painting, and to spend a magical hour wandering its world, which painting would you choose? Maybe it would be Constable’s Hay Wain? Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Or, perhaps you’d like to join in with Edvard Munch’s Scream?? Or – much more light-heartedly – maybe you’d prefer to go trip-trapping over Monet’s bridge? The possibilities are endless. It’s your choice…

Not Whistler’s Mother. I’m drawn to early morning or evening atmospheres in pictures, slightly nebulous light. I would have said someone like Burne Jones or a Pre-Raphaelite at a younger age, when I would have liked to rush Chatterton or Ophelia to A&E. Stepping into a painting is different from something you would appreciate at a distance – I like John Piper but actually getting lost inside his paintings might be a little forbidding. I’ll settle for a real adventure in Rex Whistler’s canvas mural at Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

Rex Whistler, Plas Newydd

5) The Doctor has invited you to time travel with him on board the Tardis. Which period in history would you most like to visit and why?

At one time I’d have said the 17th century, which stems from a few things. It might have started with Captain Marryat’s The Children of the New Forest, about a family fleeing the Roundheads to hide in my (then) local woodland. I felt sorry for Charles I because, despite his bizarre beliefs, he appeared to be quite a sensitive, arty character, and Puritans seemed like hell on earth. I was also for the dandier cavaliers because, aged 7, I wanted to be one of the Three Musketeers. Now I’d be happy with the 1930s, to see Britain before it was blitzed, or 1967 – just to soak up a time before everything was a postmodern plate of mash.

Prince Rupert and his Dogge

6) If Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Will Shakespeare were alive today and were regular tweeters, I’d definitely be persuaded to join Twitter! Is there anyone from pre-internet days who, if they were alive today, you would love to see dazzle us daily with tweets of sheer brilliance and delight? Or are you glad they never had to suffer the tyranny of 140 characters?

Prefer Twitter for genuine news or links to interesting stuff… I’d rather take the time to catch up with people properly and share the warmth of their wit. It encourages too much ill-thought-out opinion, or it’s all a bit self-regarding – at worst, like an incessant Round Robin Christmas Card. Twitter is quite democratic I suppose – once it was only the Royal Family that issued dull updates on their everyday lives. Marie Antoinette was probably ahead of her time with ‘Let them eat cake’ though.

7) Which three books and three pieces of music would you take with you to a desert island?

Devilish question, but easier if you think of a desert island as needing something that you can revisit time and again and see something new. So something lengthy and Victorian (I’m seeing the closing scenes of A Handful of Dust here) and that would be Tess of the D’urbevilles, because Hardy was perfectly balanced here: English countryside in every mood and scenes of great happiness amid the general descent. It would also tell you the human race isn’t worth missing on your desert island. I’m enjoying Patrick Leigh Fermor at the moment so any of his books would widen the horizon a bit. Alexandra Harris’s book Romantic Moderns would be a good choice – plenty of arts stuff to rifle through. Other than that a very sensible practical survival handbook…

Time of Gifts PLF

Music… I’d need music that hints at lots of eclectic stuff so I could, err, travel sonically. Plenty of indie guitars, so maybe P J Harvey’s A Perfect Day Elise, or Let England Shake just because it captures a particular spirit rather than saying the songs are better than anything else.

Then something with a bit of classically-trained depth and breadth but general experimental eclectic-ness… just now, Patrick Watson’s Adventures in your Own Backyard (perfect title for a desert island).

But most of all Swing Out Sister’s album Somewhere Deep in the Night – for escape into any film of choice with cinematic, soulful melancholy on soaring, uplifting air currents.

8) Out of all the species of wild animals or birds you have yet to see, which one would you most like to encounter?

I’d take tea with an otter. A splash in the water is the closest I’ve got.

9) Which of the following would most closely correspond to your natural habitat? a) Out on the moors with Heathcliff; b) In the Forest with Robin Hood; c) Out at sea with Long John Silver; d) Cosy by the fireside with a Pickwickian gathering of genial folk, sharing a bottle of your favourite tipple; e) The bookish calm of a country house study – in mutual retreat with Mr Bennet; f) Striding across the meadows with Elizabeth Bennet, a healthy glow in your cheeks and mud caking your boots; g) In the Attic with Jo from Little Women, scribbling stories and dreaming of adventure; h) Absorbed in the life of the city streets – in the company of a fictional detective of your choice; i) Roaming Manderley – and the windswept Cornish cliffs – with the second Mrs de Winter; j) Wandering alongside William and Dorothy Wordsworth, pacing out poetical rhythms on the Cumbrian fells, and waxing lyrical about wild daffodils; k) In a cave with Gollum; l) Hey, Mel – I’m an incredibly complicated human being – a mix of all.

Great question! I think I’d spend the night with Robin Hood, then I’d wander up over the moors for some Yorkshire gales and to give Heathcliff a copy of I’m OK, You’re OK. I’d pick up some Yorkshire tea on the way to the station and take the train West in time for fireside cake in the library at Manderley with Mrs de Winter. Leaving behind a season ticket to the Ladies’ Championships at Wimbledon for Mrs Danvers, it would be back on the train to Oxford for a pint in a decent pub with the new Inspector Morse, Endeavour, because then it’d be 1967 and there’d be something black and white and subtitled on at the cinema.

10) Where would you rather live and why: Toad Hall; Bag End; Green Knowe; Little House on the Prairie; Green Gables; Kirrin Island; 221B Baker Street.

No contest – Green Knowe. Lucy Boston rescued and restored the manor at Hemingford Grey and I’m really drawn to houses and their ebb and flow over time. I can really relate to people who think homes have human characteristics. It’s also an ancient building: you could drift off into any century.

Green Knowe side

11) If you had to go on a long journey with a fictional character, who would you choose? And what form of transport would you take – ship, hot air balloon, train, canal boat, motorbike, bicycle, gondola, skateboard, horse drawn gypsy caravan? Space ship?

Lucia from E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. She has form with unusual transport, so I expect it would be an upturned kitchen table again. I could learn Italian on the journey.


3 thoughts on “The Bookish Nature inquisition

  1. Brilliant answers! I’ve so enjoyed reading them – it’s been like dipping into a wonderful selection box of collected and condensed ‘Whistles in the Wind’ treats…

    Like you, I’d so love to visit Green Knowe. Such a magical place of Time’s drift and ebb and flow… When I found out a few years ago that it’s possible to visit the manor at Hemingford Grey, it went straight onto the list of Life’s Wishes…

    I absolutely love your journey from Sherwood Forest to Oxford, via the moors and Manderley – and your very prudent gifts for Heathcliff and Mrs Danvers 🙂 I look forward to seeing you floating by on the upturned table with Lucia, reciting Italian – and accompanied by a host of guardian otters!

    And your choices of Moominvalley and Rex Whistler’s canvas mural are inspired! Looking at the pictures of the mural, you immediately feel invited to take a dream-like wander amongst all those beautiful and intriguing glimpsed scenes… And Moominvalley…well… just perfect!

    Great desert island choices too. (I love P.J. Harvey’s music!) And Thomas Hardy to take you back to Wessex – and deep into meditations on life’s tangled threads of beauty, joy and tragedy; what could be better…

    That cover design for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘A Time of Gifts’ is stunning!

    Many thanks for taking the time to answer my (hopefully not too daft) questions – hope it wasn’t an onerous task – and you had some fun along the way! Anyway, I won’t keep you reading this comment any longer – d’Artagnan & Co. will be needing your swashbuckling assistance any time soon…

    (Watch out for those miserable Puritans!)


  2. Thanks, I really enjoyed the questions, just my kind of thought-wander! I could have rambled for ages. Sorry for delay in replying, summer holiday planning in the way, I haven’t been eating rhubarb crumble for a week!

    Yes, I hope to get to Green Knowe one day, still on ‘the list’ though – don’t know if you’ve come across this great interview with Diana Boston about Green Knowe here:
    I’d recommend Lucy Boston’s book ‘Memories’ too if you haven’t already – all about restoring the house and interesting stuff about life in the war (apparently locals gossiped she was a German spy because she wore a dirndl once!).

    It’s great thinking what you’d take to a desert island and I suppose current fascinations always come to mind. Time of Gifts is very good – I’m sure you would like his writing very much – beautiful description, observation. ‘A Time to Keep Silence’ is a short book (thinking of all the queued huge tomes on ‘the list’) so if you haven’t already worth investigating – about his stays in various monasteries while writing.

    • Oh, no need for any apologies… hope the holiday planning is going well… Really glad you enjoyed the questions! I loved reading the thought wanders they took you on. I meant to say in my previous comment that I so empathise with that feeling you describe of needing to get back to moments of just enjoying what you love…

      Thanks for the pointer to the Diana Boston interview – I’d not come across it before, and it made for fabulous reading. So interesting. I managed to read both parts today (in between all the usual school summer holiday interruptions!) Fascinating to read about all the publication processes bound up with the different incarnations of Peter Boston’s haunting illustrations. A treat too to hear Diana Boston’s story – especially in light of how, as the article says, she has been largely overshadowed by the memory of her famous mother-in-law. The more I read about Lucy Boston, the more I admire her spirit and imagination. And her daughter-in-law’s own tale is so impressive and inspiring too… Wonderful that the manor at Hemingford Grey is still a lived in home… I’ll definitely look out ‘Memories’ (another trip to Barter Books may be in the offing this summer…)

      You’ve really inspired me to search out Patrick Leigh Fermor’s work too (don’t know why I’ve never read any, really!) I had a look round the internet and read some of ‘A Time to Keep Silence’ online today. You’re right – it’s exactly my sort of thing! Another one to look out for in Barter Books!

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