The next book in my reading queue is Hermione Lee's biography of Penelope Fitzgerald and I'm looking forward to starting it over the weekend, but Dame Hermione is in the bookish news today with word that her next biographical subject is to be Sir Tom Stoppard. There's no publication date in prospect yet, but I'm sure that that book, when eventually it comes, will make fascinating reading.
Blackwell's the booksellers have set up Giving Trees in their shops and online so that underprivileged children can receive a book this Christmas.
For a small sum, you can either choose a book in the store for a child whose request is on the special tags hanging on the Giving Trees, or place your 'order' through the website so that a suitable book is gift-wrapped and delivered to a child in time for Christmas.
I've bought a book by this means, and I hope that for the young person who receives it it will go some way to opening the door into the magical world of reading; there could hardly be a better gift.
In the post this morning - all beautifully wrapped and girded with an actual crimson ribbon - was The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements who has been described as "the vibrant new voice of historical fiction". It won't be out until March, but it sounds like another to look forward to, "an extraordinary and mesmerising story of two women's obsession, superstition and hope".
It begins on May Day 1646: "The Civil War is raging and what should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn. Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it's in the Poole household that she finds refuge.
Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie's world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie's radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country's conflict, to the trial of a king."
Elizabeth Poole was a real person who appeared before the Army Council in the days before the trial and execution of Charles I and spoke of visions she had received from God. Her testimony didn't influence the outcome of the trial but her words were heeded, and why this was so is at the basis of the novel as Katherine Clements has sought to explain it using research, conjecture and imagination. Katherine came across the character in Antonia Fraser's biography of Oliver Cromwell and was intrigued by this woman who was given an audience with some of the most important men of the day. Research revealed "a dark, seductive world of illegal printing presses, extreme spiritual obsession and a mysterious scandal," and so for Katherine, Elizabeth's story "proved impossible to resist".