15/01/21 Kathleen Kinder
I extend a warm welcome to everyone watching and listening, wherever you are. I’ll speak around 50-60 minutes with time for questions afterwards. I have given Talks to the public on books available from Settle library many times, but I have never used Zoom before. I would like to thank the Settle library management committee for their support and particularly, Hazel Richardson, for organising the event and agreeing to put the Talk notes online afterwards, so there is no need to write down book titles.
Thank you to the North Yorkshire library service for providing me promptly with all the e-books and a few printed books I wanted to borrow and read during the restrictions from the end of March until now. I could not have done this Talk without all the help I’ve been given. There are copies of the books discussed in the NY library system, and I’m sure in other county library systems elsewhere.
If you want to know more about the growth of interest in e-books amongst library borrowers world-wide, please read my articles and notes on the web site: settlelibrary.org.uk (small case). You will also find notes too on Gutenberg, the free book store.
I interpret “The Modern Book Scene” as books mostly, but not entirely, published in the last 4-5 years, a few as recently as just weeks ago . The emphasis is on books that have been in a prize list, have stirred up discussion and controversy and which reflect current interests amongst the reading public and in society at large. I’m also very conscious of local library interests, having worked as a volunteer in the Settle library for 3 years, and having oversight of our 14 Book Groups. I have more material than I can possibly use in one Talk.
I have more to say on some books than on others. Most books are fiction, a few non fiction. Many books feature several themes in one volume, For example, historical fiction can be the backdrop to feminist issues, slavery, romance and murder. I end, as I should in this era of pandemic with books that encourage “ a feel good factor”.
Murder, Mystery and Thrillers – the largest fiction group
As a starter, I’d like to point to books which feature, horror, suspense and/or mystery, but no murder. For example, there is Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, which was popular with our Book Groups a year or so ago. It was the 2017 British Booksellers Book of the Year. Then there is the 2019 Sunday Times Bestseller, Diane Setterfield’s Once upon a River. The book begins with a man coming into an inn carrying the body of a dead girl who comes back to life again. There is quite a mystery to solve. There is a love story and some lovely lyrical description of the river Thames and its life. It is a book to enjoy.
Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, which was long listed for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, could have been a murder thriller, but just misses it by a whisker. The first chapter located in pre-history, is a creepy account of a ritual sacrifice of a woman in a Northumberland bog. From then, we are located to an archaeological camp in present day Northumberland which 17 year old Silvie and her parents have joined. Her father, who rules his family with a rod of iron, is obsessed with the prehistoric period, particularly with its gruesome rituals. Her mother and she are frightened of him. The professor in charge shares the father’s enthusiasm. Members of the camp have to live as prehistoric people and try to feed off herbs, plants and rabbit stew.
On a hot day, after Sylvie has been out gathering plants, she strips off and has a dip in a lonely moorland pool. Her masochistic father happens to pass by, sees his naked daughter, takes off his belt and beats her until ugly weals appear on her body. Back in the camp, she tries to hide her wounds, but when the professor and her father want to re-enact a ritual sacrifice with Sylvie as the pretend victim, friends in the camp steal away to find help. The ending is, as T.S.Eliot wrote, satisfactory. It’s a good novel.
A few months ago, when the media were reflecting on the huge rise in e-book popularity, I came across an online review from which I learnt that the most popular e-books read during the first 5 months of the lock down were murder mysteries. Lee Child’s books were mentioned, but Gillian Galbraith’s first book Blood on the Water (2007) figured prominently. There are plenty of printed copies, by the way, but I borrowed an e-book. Gillian Galbraith is an Edinburgh author, and her fictional detective, Alice Rice, is from the Edinburgh CID. Alice purports to have filled the gap left by Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, who has retired from Edinburgh to live with his daughter in a village in NE Scotland, where, believe it or not, a murder has been committed. This is the subject of Ian Rankin’s next Rebus book.
I found Gillian Galbraith’s style very good to read. She captures expertly the atmosphere of Edinburgh, a city I love, and especially of its poorest quarters. There are 4 murder victims. The author builds up each character’s lifestyle and interests so that when each is murdered, the reader has a real sense of loss. Alice Rice, works as a team member of the CID team, unlike some other fictional detectives, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, for example. But in Blood on the Water it is Alice who usually picks up a clue that takes the team in the right direction. I did not guess who the murderer was. Towards the end, I felt a little confused by too many characters making a brief appearance. On the whole, a good reading experience. This after all, was the author’s first book. There are plenty of copies in the library of this and of her more recent murder mysteries.
I then came across Ruth Ware who is dubbed “the queen of creepy crime”. Her latest book The Turn of the Key, published 2020, had just appeared in the library system. I borrowed the e-book version and was immediately interested when I read that The Turn of the Key was based on Henry James’ 1898 novella ,The Turn of the Screw, often regarded as the first psychological thriller. To revive my memory, and since there were printed, but no e-book copies in the library, I downloaded a free copy from Gutenberg.
The characters, location and setting of each novel are similar. A governess is appointed to look after children in a large, remote house reputedly haunted. There is a house-keeper, and in The Turn of the Key, a mysterious handyman who lives in a cottage down the road. The events are narrated in the first person by the governess, but in The Turn of the Key the governess is writing from gaol, there, because she is accused of the murder of a little girl, one of her 3 charges, whose death is recorded at the end of her story. In the Turn of the Screw, there is a skilful building up of the atmosphere of foreboding and impending death. The governess as well as the boy and the girl, experience the presence of 2 frightening apparitions, reputed to be the ghosts of a former governess and a male retainer. The governess gradually realises that it is the little boy who is the focus of their evil, ghostly intention. She sends the little girl away to safety with the housekeeper, but the little boy dies in her arms.
I’ve not really given a spoiler. The governess in The Turn of the Key offers a rational cause for the little girl’s death (no spoiler). What really happened to the boy at the end of The Turn of the Screw has been a matter of conjecture ever since 1898. These 2 books would be ideal for a Book Group to read/ discuss.
This category covers an enormous range of interpretation and I must be selective. Recently, I have read 3 newly published books where during the course of the story, the heroine or her friend, has been on trial for murder and was acquitted. All 3 books are well worth reading (strictly not in this category ). One is Where the Crawdads sing by Delia Owens,(Crayfish). This was a Sunday Times best seller in 2018.
The second book, located in the USA, c.1870s is A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, sequel to Days without End, told in the words of Winona, the American Indian orphan adopted by Thomas MacNulty and John Cole, 2020 The 3rd one, located in the 1930s USA, is in Jo Jo Moyes delightful The Giver of Stars, published 2019. The cause of the charge in each of those 3 books is that of killing a man who attempted rape on the women. All 3 accused were acquitted. Was justice done in each case? I wonder. All 3 books are very good to read and 2, the Jo Jo Moyes and Delia Owens are love stories.
One book I want to comment on more fully is one of the most moving I have ever read. The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins won the 2019 Costa First Book Prize. Frannie, a mulatto slave, 1830s, like the governess in The Turn of the Key, writes her confessions in prison where she is held accused of the murder of her master and mistress, the Benhams, to whom she has been gifted by her father and owner, John Langton, on his return to England. She writes of her origins in Jamaica, her mother a black slave, her father, the white English owner of the plantation. Frannie as a mulatto, half caste is despised by the black slaves and the white masters. Her situation is similar to that of Winona in Sebastian Barry’s book. She too is despised by both black and white servants because she is a North American Indian. Frannie’s father had seen to it that she had had a good education, not for any worthy cause, but to test his theory that black blood meant inferiority of imagination, sensibility, intelligence, and intellect. To his dismay, his experiments proved the very opposite, but the belief of the inferiority of black, brown, and mixed race peoples persists in many quarters today, as we know.
To return to Frannie, she becomes very close to her neurotic mistress, Marguerite Benham, who introduces her to the habit of taking the drug laudanum. One morning, Frannie wakes to find the bloodied corpses of both her master and mistress and she herself covered in blood. She remembers nothing and that’s why she is in gaol awaiting her trial for murder. No spoilers. If you google the title of this book, you will come up with dozens of web sites discussing the book and its outcome, because it is a novel which exposes graphically some of the deepest racial prejudices, current in our society today. It is also a beautifully written book. You will not put it down until you have read it, if you are like me. There are plenty of library copies in all formats.
Authors of a non white heritage who write in English
Refugees and Displacement. It should not surprise us in our day and age to see an increase in the number of books about or by refugees . The English writing ability of many of these overseas authors is good enough to do without the services of a translator. In fact, these authors enrich our writing tradition considerably.
I’ve read recently 2 published books by refugees. Both are very well-written, – plenty of library copies too. One is The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passerlay (2018). As a boy, Gulwali was sent away from Afghanistan after his father was killed . After being smuggled into Iran, he began a harrowing 12 month journey via Turkey, across the Mediterranean and through Europe, to arrive eventually at a miserable refugee camp in Calais. Somehow he survived and got to Britain, where he was fostered, sent to a good school and won a place at Manchester university . He carried the Olympic torch in 2012.
The second book is The Beekeeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri, who had been a refugee herself and who worked for a time at a refugee camp in Greece. This book became the 2020 Sunday Times Bestseller and the choice of the Richard and Judy Book Club. It is most moving; the horrors punctuated by haunting, lyrical accounts of happy memories which sustained the bee-keeper Neri and his blind wife Afra, throughout the terrifying journey from Aleppo in Syria to the UK. As well as desperation and suffering, this story has hope and love in it too. The ending was so heartening. Mustafa, Neri’s great nephew, had made it to Yorkshire and had found work as a bee-keeper. He invited Neri and his wife to join him, warning him that Yorkshire bees were not like Syrian ones and there would be new things to learn. I don’t often cry over a book but I did over this. How can we refuse to help refugees?
There are 3 novels written by Igbos from Eastern Nigeria which are considered of high quality world-wide. I choose them because I know a bit about about their background,
From 1957-9, I taught English to Igbo women students at a U.M. secondary training college in Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria. I was not a missionary, but on government appointment. I should have stayed longer, but had met my future husband just before I left England.
The first thing I learnt was that Igbos in common with all West Africans, have no written culture. Their alphabets were invented by Europeans and the Igbos certainly do not use Igbo for creative writing. All tribal languages are different, and English is the lingua franca. The Igbos in particular are gifted in their use of spoken and written English as I discovered when I taught them in class and when I produced with an Igbo student cast, the court scene from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, followed later by the full play of A Midsummer Knight’s Dream. The Igbo speech rhythms are not the same as ours, and they emphasise different syllables in a word or phrase. Above all, the Igbo actors illustrated beautifully the universality and greatness of Shakespeare. I’ll tell you later of the great reception A Midsummer Night’s Dream received in a leper colony. I am not surprised that today the Igbos have writers whose novels are of such high quality. The 3 books I’ve chosen are well represented in our library . All of them tell of a clash of cultures, European and tribal African, and have tragedy written into the story.
- Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe. 1958, which is the first book in a trilogy. This was published while I was in E. Nigeria. Before I left in 1959, it had established itself world wide as a great novel. Copies are still in the library. The book is one of the BBC’s 100 Novels That Shaped The World. It is often used as a text in multiracial schools and colleges. The book tells of Okonkwo, an outstanding warrior who is banished from his village after accidentally killing a man. When he returns, he finds great changes wrought by missionaries and colonial officials. The period is late 19th Century. Okonkwo cannot cope and hurtles towards tragedy.
- Half of a Yellow Sun- by a woman, now a prolific novelist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, who lives in the USA. This book was the winner of the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and in 2017 won the Women’s Prize for Fiction “Winner of Winners” prize, for being the book most consistently re-issued, read and sold in 10 years.
The period in the novel is during the Biafran war in the late 1960s-early 1970s, which brought widespread slaughter to the Igbo population, who had tried to create the new state of Biafra. There was massive destruction of communities and nation-wide famine. Many of the students I taught were killed, including Virginia Ezuanala, who played Portia and Titania – so brilliantly. The book’s story concerns a small group of people, European and African. As the horrific war engulfs them, they are thrown together and then pulled apart in ways they never thought could have happened.
- An Orchestra of Minorities by Chingozie Obioma, who is now an associate professor of English at the Nebraska-Lincoln university, USA. The book was on the Booker Prize long-list for 2019. It concerns Chinonso, a poor farmer who falls in love with Ndali, a woman he saves from falling to her death on a river bridge. Ndali comes from a higher social class family who refuse permission for their marriage. Chinonso goes to Cyprus to improve his education and his status in the eyes of Ndali’s family. When he returns, he finds a drastically changed situation.
The book is written in the mythic style of the Igbo oral tradition. Chingozie’s “chi”, his companion spirit, is ever with him, advising and commenting on Chingozie’s thoughts and actions. Considering the outcome, the chi cannot be compared to a Christian guardian angel.
The Shared Booker Prize of 2019
- A joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize is Bernardine Evaristo’s
Girl, Woman, Other. The author is British, a leading academic, the winner of several awards, and the first black woman to win the Booker Prize. Her father was a Yoruba, from Western Nigeria. Interesting! The book follows over a number of years, the lives of 12 black heritage characters of different ages, lifestyles and status. As the author shares a common ethnicity with her characters, she provides a unique and brilliantly written insight into their lives. The book unfortunately for me, has no punctuation and I had a headache at the end of it. There are great empty spaces on some pages as well. I’ve read 2 other books like it recently – no, or just selective, punctuation.
I taught English language and literature. Punctuation developed from the need to translate into writing an oral story. There are marks for meaning, expression, and where you breathe. I remember a joke: a sentence & a cat? But who am I to complain? I went to university 70 years ago. I’m a relic of an age long gone. Bernadine Evaristo on the other hand, is professor of Creative Writing at Brunel university.
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood also shared the 2019 Booker prize. This book is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale 1985. Did you watch the TV version? Both are distopic novels. In 1921, a Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote a prophetic, satirical novel We of the authoritarian state the Russian Revolution would produce. He was right. The English translation influenced 3 Western authors who could detect authoritarian growing influences in the societies of their day. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, was published in 1932, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four 1948, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale 1985, and The Testaments 2019 – prophetic, yes!
Margaret Atwood’s fictional authoritarian state Gilead, which had taken over the USA in both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, was based on a distorted Old Testament patriarchal society, not a Christian One. Gilead, in the OT was where the spices and healing herbs came from. Jeremiah’s question, ch 9, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” was a proverbial saying. Margaret Atwood uses the name in biting cynicism. It was the place where women like Offred, captured from the outside world, were treated like brood mares, forced to have regular sex with a Commander in the hope of producing more children to people Gilead. Anyone who broke the rules was executed or banished to colonies. The action in The Testaments takes place some years later and works towards the downfall of Gilead through the plotting of Aunt Lydia. Of the two, I think The Testaments is the better book. Maybe, it was coincidence that The Testaments arrived on the scene in the USA to herald the defeat of Donald Trump.
Brief Mention of 3 Books published in 2020 (all in the library).
When the lock down happened at the end of March, some of us were looking forward to receiving Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, which is the final part of the trilogy concerned with Thomas Cromwell. It is a huge book (there are now e-book copies to borrow). It took me a bit to get into it. I got there when I realised that the book was written entirely from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. Then I became totally absorbed. The reader enters his mind, follows the decisions he makes, notes how he regards others, always careful in the opinions he expresses and so on. There are some lovely lyrical passages and vivid descriptions of the Tudor environment. We know Cromwell’s death is inevitable . No need for spoilers. At the end of the book, as he mounts the steps of the scaffold, we enter his mind to the very moment that the axe falls.
The second book is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, also 2020. This is partly a fictional story based on the wife and family Shakespeare left behind in Stratford while he was making his name as a playwright in London. He is a shadowy figure, never named, but one who makes unannounced visits to his family. The family centres on his wife, called Agnes here, not Anne. She is a gifted, spirited, woman, who has great knowledge of local medicinal herbs and plants, much needed in 1594 when first, her daughter Judith catches the plague. She recovers while her brother, the Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet , or is it Hamlet, dies. The book is beautifully written with rich imagery, and offers a masterly account of overwhelming grief and loss. It touched me deeply, a lovely book.
Apart from the coincidence of the present covid pandemic, the book was describing the same outbreak of bubonic plague which arrived in London in 1592, worked its way north, and according to the plague stone opposite the Craven Arms, affected the communities of the ancient parish of Giggleswick from 1597-8. I have spent a lot of time researching the considerable archives of Giggleswick’s St Alkelda’s Church for our new web site. According to parish records, from November 1597-February 1598 66 parishioners died of plague, adding to the total of 129 burials in the churchyard over a 12 month period.
The third book is Marilynne Robinson’s Jack .2020, This is a companion volume to 3 other books: Gilead 2004, Home 2008, Lila 2014, and now Jack 2020. The stories they tell are not in chronological order. Rather, each is primarily concerned with a character who belongs to one of the families of 2 great friends, the Rev Boughton, the Rev John Ames, one a Presbyterian and the other a Congregational minister. Their homes and parishes are in the small fictional town of Gilead, in Iowa. Here Gilead takes on its true Biblical meaning as a place where people come for a healing. Jack is the ne’er do well son of the Rev Boughton. The book is located in a segregated St Louis during the 1950s where Jack meets and falls in love with Della, a beautiful Afro-American teacher whose intelligence and background match his. They consider themselves married and Della becomes pregnant. This illegal relationship seems doomed to failure. Jack drifts along as a vagrant, stealing and drinking, homeless, then in and out of cheap lodgings. He does not seem to have the will to break the cycle of self-destruction. Jack then returns to Gilead. I found Jack a moving book, a profound study of a man dogged by failure. Although the novel is a “stand alone,” both Home and Gilead reveal more about Jack’s future life. Can “the leopard change his spots?”, Jack recalls from Jeremiah 14? The author has an answer to that elsewhere.
Marilynne Robinson’s books have won many prizes. As well as being considered one of the US’s leading intellectuals, she is regarded by many critics as the world’s greatest novelist, irrespective of whether they as critics , share her faith or not. She has an elegant, fluid and rich style of writing which has a near universal appeal. I found myself swept along by her narrative, wanting to know more. (no e-books. See The Givenness of Things 2015; Balm in Gilead 2018).
Finally- Books with a Feel Good Factor
First the classic Romance novel – A few months ago, I visited the Romance Novelists’ Association web site – a good source of romance novel suggestions. I discovered that a 2019 prize for a best romance novel had just been awarded to Milly Johnson’s The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew. I borrowed an e-book copy and thoroughly enjoyed a well-written, romantic story with a good plot. I read romance novels when I’m tired and want to relax or escape from stress. The heroine Mrs Mayhew was fed up with being the beautiful wife of a politician who wanted to show off her charms to further his ambition to be prime minister. Eventually, she ran away to a North Yorkshire village near where she had been at school. She was befriended by the vicar’s sister and allowed to live in an empty almshouse . Her marriage had ended. She and the vicar fell in love. It was, as we say, “a good read”, very well-written, with a lovely, warm feel to it.
A couple of years ago, I used to hear a lot from Book Group people about how they had enjoyed a book called. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2009. It is what I call a mixed genre novel and I find these more satisfying than just a straight forward, simple romance. There is a delightful, love story emerging from stark memories of the suffering and horror of the German occupation. The date is 1946 when the memories were still very raw. It is the first novel I’ve reviewed with a plot entirely emerging from letters several of the characters wrote to each other. It is very skilfully done and a thorough delight to read. (recent film presentation; BBC i-player)
I’ve already mentioned briefly Jo Jo Moyes The Giver of Stars published 2019. I think this is her best novel to date. It is based on a true story about a little group of women who during the 1930s, in a poor part of Kentucky, organised a mobile library service for the benefit of people living in remote places. It also has as heroine, an innocent girl who marries into an unhappy family, her husband, unable to consummate the marriage, his father, a brute who beats her for working with the library and not trying to get pregnant. It all works out in the end. Her unhappy marriage is annulled. A true romance develops from a caring friendship with the guy who houses the books for the library, and there is a happy ending – of course!.
I have also read and enjoyed Dinah Jefferies’ book Before the Rains 2017. It is on my Kindle. Dinah Jefferies is a well-known writer of romantic fiction, mentioned on the RNA website. There are plenty of her books, e-books too, in the library . Before the Rains has the elements of classic romance fiction : it has an exotic 1930s Indian location with a handsome prince who forms passionate love relationship with a beautiful widow, an English woman photographer, whose family had connections with his part of India. There is a high incidence of coincidence, as well as obstacles to overcome en route for the happy ending. This is no basic Mills and Boon novelette. The treatment of women, social and political issues of 1930s’ India are interwoven with the story, and there is rich description of the colour and romance of the Indian landscape and the beautiful architecture.
Lastly, Nature, the Environment and the Great Outdoors
The last few years have seen an explosion of new, mostly non fiction books concerned with one or more aspect of this wide- reaching topic. Sometimes the books spring from TV programmes, or the other way round, like All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot ) and The Yorkshire Shepherdess (Amanda Owens – books in the library )
An important contributor to the debate surrounding the present and future of northern hill farming is James Rebank, himself a practising Cumbrian sheep farmer as well as an international spokesperson on the future of farming and its impact on the environment.
We read and enjoyed The Shepherd’s Life 2015 in our Book Group, a absorbing autobiographical account of Rebank’s life to his marriage, his return to farming and the arrival of his young family. Rebank writes bitterly of his schooldays where he was given the impression than the non-academic were the losers in life. With the help of extra tuition and support from Helen, later his wife, he won a scholarship to Oxford. After his graduation, they returned to their beloved Lake District, to his family farm, HerdwicK sheep and the dogs. Additionally, he became involved internationally in environmental issues. He writes passionately and this book is a delight to read.
His latest book, The English Pastoral 2020, is the S.T. Nature Book of the Year. We learn about his farm which had been in his family for generations, his grandfather who taught him so much about sheep and the care of the land. He describes how he takes his own young children with him on his daily tasks. There are some lovely descriptions of the changing seasons and the countryside. He admits several times that without an extra source of income it would not be viable to live off sheep farming on the Cumbrian fells (Dales too?).
H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald, 2014 is another book we read and enjoyed in our Book Group. As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. When her father died, she was stricken with grief. She then bought a goshawk determined to train it. As she does so in the wide open spaces of Norfolk, she finds that her exacting task, its eventual success and the training ground’s natural landscape provided the therapy to help her emerge from her grief.
Another book The Outrun by Amy Liptrot 2016 describes how the author, an alcoholic, whose life in London had gone to pieces, returns to a primitive order of living in Orkney where she was born. Gradually, the simplicity of her life, and the wild, remote beauty of sea and landscapes, its birds, animals and people help her towards the healing and freedom from addiction she so desires. There are some wonderful descriptions in this book, really beautiful.
Walking for me in the past has been a great therapy. It still is in a small way, and of course, we are encouraged to walk in the lock down. If you look at the BPT website, you will see just how many pilgrimage walks have sprung up in the last few years, based on walks between ancient religious sites. I mention my own book St Alkeldas Way 2019 , in the library, which traces the 32 mile ancient route through the YDNP between St Mary’s and St Alkelda’s Church, Middleham Wensleydale and St Alkelda’s, Church, Giggleswick, the only 2 churches which have this A.S. Dales martyr, as patronal saint.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn 2018. The author describes that when Moth, her husband, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they had lost their home, they decided to use their meagre resources to fund the 63 miles of SW Coast Walk. The book is a vivid account of how they managed the walk, the changing scenery, the people they met and the help they got from strangers. At the end of this astonishing marathon, they found that Moth was in remission from the cancer. In September 2020, Raynor’s second book The Wild Silence was published. It is in the library, a 10 week wait for the ebook!
I can’t leave the theme of walks without mentioning Simon Armitage’s delightful book Walking Home, the account of Simon walking the N-S length of the Pennine Way in 2013. He is our poet laureate – I love his poetry. He had arranged various poetry reading sessions in villages along the way. He writes with humour and vivacity. The characters of the people he met and those who walked with him for part of the way, really leap off the pages. The changes in the weather are recorded, a lot of rain and mist ,as you would expect. The variety of landscape is keenly observed and vividly described. I well remember his description of leaving the bright, limey green, grass- covered limestone slopes of Malham for the Bronte country’s dark, brown-green, brooding moors of millstone grit, then walking towards the finishing point, and his home in South Yorkshire.
My final book could have a universal appeal. It is Rob Cowan’s Common Ground, 2015. After an over-burdened life and stressful job in the south of England, Rob Cowan, a journalist, and his wife return to Yorkshire and buy a house in Bilton, once a separate village, but now a suburb of Harrogate. I do know Bilton; we have relatives there.
The houses stop suddenly at their lower NE boundary. A wooded and grassy slope emerges, hiding a disused railway line. The river Nidd flows through a narrow, tangled, tree-covered gorge below, This overgrown area becomes the author’s “wilderness place”. He goes there regularly to sit in a secluded spot to look, observe and record the sights: the plants, the flowers, the butterflies, birds, the deer, rabbits, hare, fox, and a pair of lovers beyond the tufts of grass. He watches a hawk overhead, listens to the sounds of birdsong and the murmur of rushing water he cannot quite see. All this in a place where nature has taken over. So near and yet so far from a bustling town.
I think, living where we do, we can all find such a wilderness place, however small it is. Thank you for listening and watching.