In September, to mark the 100th. anniversary of the birth of Mary Stewart who died in 2014, her publishers are to update her entire backlist and bring out a "lost" novella, The Wind off the Small Isles, with a foreword by Lady Stewart's niece, Jennifer Ogden.
On the subject of Mary Stewart, I still get a pang whenever I think of this!
Talking recently to an as yet unpublished writer with a solid first draft of a novel under his belt, I was surprised to discover that he hadn't already come across this indispensable guide. It's billed as "the perfect companion for writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets, playwrights, journalists, and commercial artists," and I know of no other resource as comprehensive.
It provides up-to-date listings for literary agents, publishers, self-publishing services, literary prizes, art agents, and much more, so should be the first port of call for anyone looking to submit work. In addition, it contains essays by writers and well known industry figures which are informative or inspirational; for example, Simon Trewin writes a "Letter to an unsolicited author" - or 'how not to approach an agent', Rebecca Swift shows - with reference to Pride and Prejudice - how to write a good synopsis, and Madeleine Milburn tells us how to get hooked out of the slush pile, while writers who are household names talk about their particular field or genre, so you can read, say, Rose Prince on writing about food, Alison Weir on historical fiction, William Boyd on becoming a novelist, and Katie Fforde on being a romantic novelist.
Its 700+ pages incorporates sections on practical topics such as copyright and libel, finance for writers and artists, advice on editing your work, and a glossary of publishing terms, and there's even a page or two on book sites and blogs, including Kim's, Simon S's, and (to my surprise) this one.
On this very rainy St. Swithin's Day, here's another extract from Weatherland by Alexandra Harris:
"[...] there is no evidence that the historical Swithin, Bishop of Winchester in the 850s, had any interest in the weather at all. William of Malmesbury recorded in the twelfth century a story which would be retold for centuries. According to this story, Swithin asked on his deathbed to be buried outside the walls of his cathedral, where his body 'would be exposed to the tramp of feet as people passed by and to the rain pouring down'. the legend goes that when, a century later, his bones were taken into the cathedral itself and honoured as the relics of a saint, Swithin objected by sending a downpour. Alas there is little in the way of fact to support this. Swithin was actually given a prominent burial in front of the west door, and if it rained at the time of his reinterment none of those who described the ceremony thought it worth mentioning.
What matters more is that centuries of people believed the story, and one can see why. There could be few more fitting last wishes for an English hero than this request to lie out in the rain. There is the humility of it, and the sense of being in the midst of things, for life and rain can be synonymous and 'the rain it raineth every day' [...]"
A couple of rain-related links: here (in case you missed it at the time) and here (sounds interesting).
"In the rain recently I've been trying to listen. There is not much richness in my hearing yet, but I hope it will grow. There are characters in Thomas Hardy's fiction so knowledgeable in rain that they can find their way across dark country (even when drunk) by comparing the sound of the water on different crops:
'Sometimes a soaking hiss proclaimed that they were passing by a pasture, then a patter would show that the rain fell upon some large-leafed root crop, then a paddling plash announced the naked arable, the low sound of the wind in their ears rising and falling with each pace they took.' " (Desperate Remedies)
"Dickens began Bleak House in the dark November of 1851 and finished it the following year during three months of near-continuous rain. The heavy drops fall ('drip, drip, drip upon the broad flagged pavement') when we first meet Lady Dedlock looking out blankly over a leaden landscape. 'The waters are out in Lincolnshire', and it rains for the first twelve chapters before pausing and raining again. Drops fall with the rhythm of footsteps as they might be heard on the haunted terrace, 'drip, drip, drip, by day and night', so that when Lady Dedlock has finally gone into the icy dark, and Sir Leicester lies distraught, and the house waits in grey anticipation, there is one inevitable sound: 'It is falling still; upon the roof, upon the skylight, even through the skylight, and drip, drip, drip, with the regularity of the Ghost's Walk, on the stone floor below.' "
"The best of Ted Hughes's laureate poems was Rain-Charm for the Duchy, a celebration of first rain after months of drought in 1984. Gift-wrapped as a baptismal offering for Prince Harry, it was really a bardic prayer for a whole stretch of Devon, particularly its rivers and their salmon. The rain brought out a civic streak in the poet of lonely Crow. Drops come 'sploshing' down (there's a wellington skip in the child-like word) and thunder strikes up its brass band."
Recently I posted Liz's comment on Sue Gee's new novel Trio, and having finished the book now I can echo Liz's words; I haven't read a work of fiction as good as this for quite some time.
Trio exhibits all Sue Gee's* hallmarks - an unhurried narrative, measured handling of material, particularly of the story's emotional substrate, a calmness and restraint in plotting, beautifully drawn characters, and a feel for place such that she could be called a landscape artist with words.
Trio is set in Northumberland in the late 1930s where Steven Coulter, a young history teacher, loses his wife to tuberculosis. Finding solace in his work, Steven is helped through his grief by his friendship with his colleague Frank whose cellist sister Diana is a member of a trio. As, for the first time, Steven experiences the expressive power of music, its ability to transport and to heal, so he becomes close to the musicians - Diana, Margot and George - and enters their world of country houses, shared history, and repressed emotion. When one of the friends breaks the charmed circle to follow a path they can, in conscience, no longer avoid, everything changes for all of them.
I'm always drawn to books which feature music**, as a knowledgeable and sensitive treatment of the subject provides a rich extra dimension, and this one incorporates it seamlessly and perfectly. Done with care, integrity and balance, the musical element both enhances the novel itself and leads the reader to find recordings and listen closely to the specific pieces described - a bonus, to my mind.
But as I've said above there's so much more than that to Trio, and I can't recommend it too highly. Sue Gee is a writer of clarity and quality, a Bawden or Ravilious, a Reynolds Stone or Clare Leighton of prose, and reading her work is pure pleasure.
* There are links to posts on some of her other novels here.
Saturday saw us at Magdalen College's newly opened Longwall Library - a most beautiful and impressive building comprising the sensitively and imaginatively reconfigured old library (top left in the picture above) with a new extension and adjacent garden area.
Full of natural light, quiet corners, and comfortable chairs, it felt to me to be the perfect place to study (and a browse in the stacks even turned up some Dorothy Whipple!).