I've missed the first week of the Edinburgh International Book Festival as I've been somewhat under the weather, but to give all of us absent friends a flavour of it I thought I'd post one of its 'sidelights', if I can put it that way, the gallery of writers' portraits by Edinburgh photographer Chris Close which you can find around the festival site in Charlotte Square Gardens.
You can see a few of Chris's great pictures here, and if you're on Periscope and following Edinburgh Book Fest (@edbookfest) you can catch a short film of him at work, photographing A.C. Grayling, and talking about some of this week's shots.
Chris has collected 100 of his best pictures in a book, Between the Lines: Portraits of Authors, and if I can get up to Charlotte Square in the next few days I'll look out for his postcard portraits which are on sale in the bookshop.
Here's a book to look out for, to be published later this week.
Nelly Dean is the debut novel by Alison Case, professor of English and nineteenth century specialist, and it has acquired a powerful advocate in Tracy Chevalier whose support for it extends much further than simply contributing a jacket quote to appearing alongside the author at literary festivals.
Tracy (who knows a thing or two about the Brontes and their novels) says, "Alison Case has cracked open Wuthering Heights and inserted into the gaps her own richly imagined story. In doing so she manages to pay homage to Emily Bronte without copying her. I never thought I needed more Wuthering Heights. Now I wonder how I could have been satisfied with only the original telling."
Nelly Dean is "a gripping and heart-breaking novel that reimagines life at Wuthering Heights through the eyes of the Earnshaws' loyal servant, Nelly Dean.
Nelly has been Hindley's closest companion for as long as she can remember: as long as she has been victim to the lashing out of her father's hand, and as long as she has lived freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights, at her mother's insistence.
When the benevolent master, Mr. Earnshaw, brings a wild child into the house, Nelly must give up playing with her beloved Hindley and be called servant, following in her mother's footsteps to give herself to the family.
Soon Nelly is not the only one in the house who must serve. As Hindley takes his place as heir apparent, Heathcliff is rejected and a reign of violence begins that cannot be stopped, even by the will of Nelly herself. And when the new heir of Wuthering Heights is born, Nelly will be tested like never before, as she finds out what it is to truly 'know thy master', and in doing so, know great sacrifice.
.... Nelly Dean is at once an enthralling literary tale, and a clever, rich testament to Bronte's work."
'He should take care to produce books at regular short intervals. He may continue this process for years without any really striking result in fame or money, and he may pessimistically imagine that his prolonged labours are fruitless. And then newspapers will begin to refer to him as a known author, as an author the mention of whose name is sufficient to recall his productions, and he will discover that all the while the building of his reputation has been going on like a coral reef.
'Even mediocre talent, when combined with fixity of purpose and regular industry, will, infallibly, result in a gratifying success.
'But it must never be forgotten that while the reputation is being formed, the excellent and amiable public needs continuous diplomatic treatment. It must not be permitted to ignore his existence. At least once a year, and oftener if possible, a good solid well-made book should be flung into the libraries.' "
W.H. Smith has joined forces with Marie Curie to launch The Big Readcycle, whereby until the 28th of August you can drop off books you've read and loved and would like to pass on at collection points within Smith's stores, or Marie Curie shops, of course. In return for your donation you'll be given a voucher for 25% off books at W.H. Smith, and all donated books will be sold in Marie Curie shops to benefit that charity and further the very important work that it does.
You can find your nearest branch of Smith's by searching here and you can search for local Marie Curie shops here. The aim is to have 30,000 books donated over the next four weeks, so I'm filling a couple of bags to drop off later today. If you can do the same and want to spread the word on Twitter, use the hashtag #readcycle or link to @WHSmith and @MarieCurieUK; the latter is also on Facebook.
Later: I've delivered my load of books, and now would like to point you in the direction of some cake-related fundraising!
Following an Instagram mention of Stoner by John Williams just now I was prompted to look up my post on the novel. I'm astonished to see that I wrote it five years ago to the day, but I thought I'd link back to it now, not just because that's a neat anniversary, but because it is such a good book, and if you don't already know it I'd urge you to get hold of a copy. I've read very few novels lately that I can wholeheartedly recommend (hence the comparative dearth of posts), but Stoner is worth shouting about: it's a very fine work indeed.
"On a small island off the south coast of France, Robert Hendricks, an English doctor who has seen the best and worst the twentieth century had to offer, is forced to confront the events that made up his life.
His host, and antagonist, is Alexander Pereira, a man whose time is running out and who has commissioned Robert to write his biography, but he seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does and is more interested in Robert's past than he is in revealing his own. Together they explore whether a life comprises events themselves or the way in which an individual chooses to remember them.
The search for sanity takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally - unforgettably - back into the trenches of the Western Front.
The recurring themes of Sebastian Faulks's fiction are here brought together with a new stylistic brilliance as the novel casts a long, baleful light over the century we have left behind but may never fully understand.
Daring, ambitious and in the end profoundly moving, this is Faulks's most remarkable book yet."
" 'I thank you, sir, I thank you,' her murmured, and placed George Herbert between Spenser and Piers Plowman on the shelf. 'You give me great wealth for the gift of a book is the gift of a human soul. Men put their souls in their books. When one man gives another a book then three souls are bound together in that most happy thing, a trinity. "
Who else is a lover of H.E. Bates' work but hasn't read any for years?
If you're a fan you'll be pleased to hear that this year and next Bloomsbury are re-issuing the complete short story collections in ebook format with some of them to come out in paperback, too. I have the first of the set, Day's End and Other Stories, and I'm very much looking forward to reading it and becoming reacquainted with a writer I loved when I was in my twenties but haven't picked up since.
His stories "often explore country life, the sadness, joy, humour and darkness in what may be seen as a simpler way of life. He writes intimate character studies against vivid rural landscapes and, in so doing, beautifully captures a spectrum of emotions from innocent childhood and early adolescence to wise and experienced old age."
If you'd like to sample the short stories you can do so at no cost by downloading Castle in the Air, a humorous piece which was lost and unknown to the Bates family until 2013, and for more information on Bates and his work, visit the H.E. Bates Companion, or sign up to the newsletter, link at the bottom of this page.
"Shannon studied in London during the 1880s and remained there, enjoying success as a society portraitist and figure painter. Jungle Tales portrays the artist's wife reading to their daughter, Kitty, shown in profile, and another child. The painting's title and date and its London origin suggest the little group is captivated by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, which had appeared in 1894...".
I saw this painting in The Met the other day and loved it - the power of a story to engage and enrapture!
I've been in New York for a few days, staying - appropriately - here.
Mr. C. and I occupied the Biography room at the hotel; each floor is dedicated to one of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and within that each room reflects a topic and is lavishly supplied with books accordingly, so we had much good reading from which to choose.
Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies is "the story of English culture over a thousand years told through the creative responses to the weather. Writers and artists across the centuries, from Chaucer to Ian McEwan, and from the creator of the Luttrell Psalter in the 14th. century to John Piper in the 20th., looking up at the same skies and walking in the same brisk air, have felt very different things and woven them into their novels, poems and paintings.
The weather is vast and yet we experience it intimately, which is why Alexandra Harris builds her remarkable story from small evocative details. There is the drawing of a 12th. century man in February, warming bare toes by the fire. There is the tiny glass left behind from the Frost Fair of 1864, and the 'Sunspan' house in Angmering that embodies the bright ambitions of the 1930s. Harris catches the distinct voices of compelling individuals. 'Bloody cold', says Jonathan Swift in the 'slobbery' January of 1713. Percy Shelley wants to become a cloud, and John Ruskin wants to bottle one.
Weatherland is both a sweeping panorama of cultural climates on the move and an intimate account rich with evocative details - for although weather, like culture, is vast, it is experienced physically, emotionally and spiritually; as Harris so cleverly reveals, it is at the very core of what it means to be English."
I am only a few pages from the end of Linda Lear's excellent Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius, and I've been spinning it out, reluctant to leave not only a meticulously researched, beautifully written biography, but also the Lakeland world of the last century, and the book's very detailed picture of Beatrix and her abiding interests and passions. If you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend it most highly.
Book jacket design trend: the hole in the cover; (here, the watch face is actually on the endpaper, as you'll see from the picture below).
I like the sound of this book; The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley "blends historical events with dazzling flights of fancy to plunge readers into a strange and magical past, where time, destiny, genius - and a clockwork octopus[!] - collide."
"In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. But he has worse fears than generous burglars; he is a telegraphist at the Home Office, which has just received a threat for what could be the largest-scale Fenian bombing in history.
When the watch saves Thaniel's life from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori - a kind, lonely immigrant who sweeps him into a new world of clockwork and music. Although Mori seems harmless at first, a chain of unexpected slips proves that he must be hiding something.
Meanwhile, Grace Carrow is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.
As the lives of these three characters become entwined, events spiral out of control until Thaniel is torn between loyalties, futures and opposing geniuses."
"Set in 14th-century China, during the final years of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty, it is the story of Wang Meng, one of the era’s four great masters of painting. It is John Spurling’s fourth novel [...], took him 15 years to write and was rejected 44 times before being published by Duckworth last year."
The judges said of the book, “The Ten Thousand Things is subtle and rewarding. Through John Spurling’s writing you feel as though you are reading Wang Meng’s paintings as he created them. It is a mesmerising, elegantly drawn picture of old imperial China, which feels remarkably modern."
"... beautiful, utterly escapist world", "a sheer delight", "a deliciously intriguing novel whose rich sense of time and place bear more than a few echoes of du Maurier's best".
The author says, "...I'm terribly nosy, especially when it comes to houses. I have always loved the 'At Home' features in newspapers and magazines: opportunities to poke around other people's homes and unearth juicy revelations beneath the chalky layers of Farrow and Ball. In general, the more cash-rich the owner, the less interesting the house - it is easy to spot the dead hand of an interior designer. The houses that have stuck in my mind are the chaotic ones in the country with their boot rooms [...] and secrets, impossible to maintain, sprawling spaces for families to go wrong, but also for magic to happen. Powderham Castle in Devon, Hilles in Gloucestershire, Pencarrow House and Port Eliot in Cornwall were in the back of my mind when I wrote this book."