Last year I read a book …

… and I completely fell in love with both book and author.

It was sheer luck that made me pick up Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley, from one of the Cornish fiction shelves in the library. The cover was lovely, and an introduction by Daphne Du Maurier sold the book to me:

“”Love In The Sun” will make other writers feel ashamed. And, curiously enough, old-fashioned too. It is a revelation in the art of writing, and may be one of the pioneers of the new renaissance in the world of novels, a renaissance which shall and must take place in our time if the novel is to survive at all. While we struggle to produce our complicated plots, all sex and psychology, fondly imagining we are drawing modern life while really we are as demode as jazz and mah-jong. Leo Walmsley gives the weary reader a true story, classic in its simplicity of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy.

They converted an old army hut for their home, they made a garden, they grew vegetables, they used driftwood for their fire in winter, they caught mackerel for their food in summer, the sea and the soil sustained them during the long months so that the man could write his book and the girl could have her baby; and when both were accomplished life continued as before, the garden was trenched, the fishing lines were baited, fame and fortune had passed them by, but hope, and courage, and love were with them still. When we come to the end of the story, we know that the man will write other books, the girl will have other babies, flowers will continue to grow in their garden, they will go on living and loving, and creating thins because, like the plants in the soil they are the very stuff of life itself.

Yes, Leo Walmsley has filled me with shame. Our cheap artificial plots, distorting human nature to make it suit the jaded palate, must go on the scrap-heap. We are not worthy to be called writers if we cannot do what he has done in “Love In The Sun”, and show the novel-reading public that the simple thins of life are the only things that matter, and that a man’s work, and his wife, and his baby, and his plot of earth, are more important than the drama and passion of the whole world, and that the world itself is not, and never has been the merciless vortex that so many of us make it out to be, but is and always will be a place of supreme adventure.”

Now could you resist that? I couldn’t! And, as I said, I fell in love.

I was so very lucky to find that copy of Love in the Sun, as it has been out of print for years and used copies have been selling at very high prices.

And that’s why I am particularly thrilled to be able to report that The  Walmsley Society is reissuing Love in the Sun at the end of this month.

I have seen that it is available for pre-order from The Book Depository, from Waterstones and from Amazon. I don’t see it on the society’s own website but I am sure you could order it direct from them.

I am so happy that such a wonderful book will be able to reach more people, and that I will be able to have a copy of my own instead of visiting the one in the library.

It’s a book that I recommend unreservedly!

Library Loot

Just two books this week, but quite wonderful books. Out of print books found in reserve stock while searching for beloved authors. Books that were so exciting to find and books that I am quite sure will sweep me away.

The Golden Water Wheel by Leo Walmsley

“Of the many stages in the evolution of a house none is more dramatic than when the actual building is finished and the workmen have packed up, and the place stands completely empty and silent. There are no curtains, no floor coverings, no furniture, and the walls are bare. This can happen only once in its history for whoever lives in it will make marks on its structure which nothing will ever completely erase and those marks will as inevitably be evidence of the character and behaviour of the occupants.”

I fell in love with Leo Walmsley’s two Cornish-set autobiographical novels, Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek, last year. They were set some years apart and the second book seemed to suggest that there was another book that would tell the story of those missing years. I did a little research, discovered that this was it, and placed my order.

Children at the Shop by Ruby Ferguson

“I have never loved the sea, it did not enter into my real life, and now I am destined to live on the very edge of the savage Atlantic, with nothing between my garden gate and Newfoundland but wild waves, and the melancholy gulls hanging above them like memories in a waste.”

It was only recently that I thought to check the catalogue to see if the library could offer anything by Ruby Ferguson. I found that a wise librarian had saved two of the Jill pony books that I loved as a child, and this unknown title. I ordered it, and when it arrived it proved to be that wonderful thing, a childhood memoir. I’m a little concerned that the elder Ruby looking back at her early years dislikes the sea, but her writing is so lovely that I’m prepared to overlook it!

It’s always worth checking the library catalogue – there are often lovely books tucked away just waiting to be rediscovered.

What did you find in the library this week?

Do go and tell Marg!

Books for a Desert Island

“Desert Island Discs is on the radio. I think there should be a Desert Island Books where the guest tells us which books he/she would take … “

As soon as I read those words in Ann Kelly’s The Bower Bird I began to wonder what books I would take.

It wasn’t easy. Some beloved authors – including Thomas Hardy, Margery Sharp, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Wilkie Collins – had to be dismissed because I couldn’t pick just one book from many wonderful works, and because I knew that whichever one I took I would regret leaving another behind.

There had to be a good range of books. I could easily have picked eight Victorian novels, but I had to allow for different days, different moods needing different books.

And I wanted books that could give me everything – beautiful prose, engaging characters, wonderful stories, thought-provoking ideas ….

Books to engage all of my emotions, and books to make me think and ask questions.

Books with so much to offer that I could happily read them over and over again.

And now, finally, I think I have my list:

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

The perfect picture of a community and the people who make it. Such wonderful characters, such wonderful ideas and emotions, and a green Virago Modern Classic to remind me of so many others.

Skallagrig by William Horwood

If I could take just one book, this would be the one. A book that speaks to me personally and says all that needs to be said about what makes us human.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

My favourite Brontë sister, and a wonderful Victorian novel that I know I could read over and over again.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

It’s a long time since I read this one, but I still remember it so well. I can’t quite explain what makes it so special, I just know that it is, and that I want to take it with me to read again.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

I did wonder whether I should take a Cornish book. Would reading of Cornwall allow me to travel home in my head or would it just make me homesick? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Love in the Sun is just too lovely to leave behind.

The Gormenghast Books by Mervyn Peake

When I want to escape sun and sand, this is the book that will take me into a completely different world. To wander down dark castle corridors and watch extraordinary stories unfolding …

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers

Perfect short stories take me back to an England that has long since gone, but that I have visited so many times in books. And a Persephone book so I have the bookmark, the endpapers, the sheer beauty of the book as an object to enjoy.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

I would definitely want a big historical novel, and this is definitely the right one to take. The first one I read, the book that made me realise that history can be questioned, and a book so rich in detail that I could lose myself for days and days ….

Yes, I think that those eight books and I could live happily together for a long, long time.

And now please tell me, how would you pick your desert island books? Which ones would you take?

The Books of 2010

I hadn’t intended to write a favourite books post for the year end, because I’ve written so many posts with lists of books over the last few weeks that I thought it might be too much.

But I’ve read some wonderful books of the year posts over the last few days, and when I did put my own list together I realised that a few of my favourites hadn’t appeared in any of my other lists.

And so here, in no particular order, are my top ten books of the year.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran

“I find myself reminded of books I’d quite forgotten. Happily recalling others. noting a few that I don’t think I’ve read yet. I want to read and re-read every single one. And then I want to look again at what this book had to say – I’m definitely going to need a copy of my own!”

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

” And I love my native Cornwall. So imagine my delight when I found a book by Wilkie Collins in the library’s Cornish room. Joy!

Rambles beyond Railways: Notes in Cornwall taken a-foot. A travelogue visiting so many places I know so well. Bliss!

And it gets better. The book I picked up was the original 1851 edition. And a bookplate at the front advises me that it was found, in tatters, in 1933, restored and then presented to the library. What a wonderful thing to do! And so I was holding the same edition that the author himself must have held. Wow!”

Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp

“Her story is strangely charming. And strangely charming is something that Margery Sharp does particularly well. This book, and indeed the whole of Martha’s story, is populated with wonderful human characters, who maybe didn’t behave and talk quite how I might have expected, and yet what they did and what they said was exactly right. I couldn’t help warming to them, understanding them, those ordinary, but somehow very special people.”

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley

“It is impossible not to care: the man and the woman are utterly real, and every detail rings true.

We make life complicated, when it could be so simple.

Love in the Sun is simply lovely.”

Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico

“The storytelling is lovely. I read about Mrs Harris’s adventure in the same way that I read the books I loved as a child. I was completely captivated, living every moment, reacting to everything, wishing and hoping…”

Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet

“Oriel Malet creates a child –  a bright child, but a child nonetheless – so beautifully, with such empathy, with such understanding that you really can see what she is seeing, feel what she is feeling.

The quality of the bigger picture is  just as high. Every detail that makes up a child’s life – people, places, events – in such lovely descriptive prose.”

Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye Smith

“I have met many remarkable women between the covers of green Virago Modern Classics. And now that I have met Joanna Godden I have to say that she is one of the most remarkable of them all.”

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi

“It is a quite extrordinary piece of writing. I reacted to it physically and emotionally, and it made me look at the world differently.

Several days after I finished reading it is still in my head, and I am utterly lost for words.”

I wish you books that you love as much in the new year.

Bookish Thoughts on Boxing Day

In our house, Boxing Day is a day for fun, relaxing, and a little contemplation.

And I’ve had a little fun contemplating this year’s reading, with the help of a set of questions that I borrowed from Verity, who borrowed from Stacy, who found it at The Perpetual Page Turner …
 

Best Book of 2010

I read many wonderful books this year, but if I have to pick out just one it must be Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley. Daphne du Maurier wrote an introduction to her friend’s book, and she can convey its charms much better than I ever could:

“”‘Love in the Sun’ will make other writers feel ashamed. And, curiously enough, old-fashioned too. It is a revelation in the art of writing and may be one of the pioneers in a new renaissance which shall and must take place in our time if the novel is to survive at all. While we struggle to produce our complicated plots, all sex and psychology, fondly imagining we are drawing modern life while really we are as démodé as jazz and mah jong, Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

Worst Book of 2010

Luckily I didn’t read anything this year that was bad enough for me to give it the label “worst book.”

Most Disappointing Book of 2010

There were a few that I didn’t finish, but their names escape me now. The most disappointing book that I did finish was Trespass by Rose Tremain. Not a bad book by any means, but it didn’t live up to its potential or to the high expectations that Rose Tremain’s earlier work created.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010

The cover of Diamond Star Halo was eye-catching, but it really didn’t look like my sort of book. That title rang a bell though, a tune lodged in my head, and the next line just wouldn’t come. I only picked it up to look for an answer, but the synopsis grabbed me, I remembered that I had really liked Tiffany Murray’s previous novel, and so the book came home. It proved to be a gem.

Book Recommended Most in 2010

I was a little disappointed when I saw The Winds of Heaven listed as one of the new Persephone Books for autumn. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Monica Dickens, but I already had The Winds of Heaven and many of her other books on my shelves , and I had hoped to discover a new author or two. I read The Winds of Heaven on holiday, loved it, and saw that it fitted into the Persephone list perfectly. And I’ve been saying that ever since!

Best Series You Discovered in 2010

I met Gussie just a few weeks ago when I read The Burying Beetle, and I fell in love with the gravely ill but wonderfully alive twelve-year-old, who so loved books, films, the whole world around her. I am so pleased that Ann Kelley continues her story in three more books, and the next one has already found its way home from the library.

Favourite New Authors in 2010

It has to be a writer from the first half of the century who is only new in that she if new to me: Sheila Kaye-Smith. I read Joanna Godden in the summer, and it pushed her creator on to the “I must find all of her books” list.

Most Hilarious Read in 2010

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there are one or two authors who combine wit with intelligence and warmth who I love dearly. L C Tyler is one of them and his most recent book, The Herring in the Library, was a delight.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2010

Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati, an Italian graphic novel that retold the classical story of Orpheus and Euridyce, was unsettling and utterly compelling. I read it in a single sitting.

Book Most Anticipated in 2010

Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore was the Holy Grail for knitters for a long time. Copies were so scarce and changed hands for ridiculous sums. I could only dream of finding a copy and being able to knot some wonderful designs that had been in my Ravelry queue since day one. But then a reissue was announced and I am pleased to be able to report that I now own the new, updated edition, with wonderful patterns and so much information about Aran knitting, and that it every bit as wonderful as I had expected.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2010

I was completely captivated by the cover of The Still Point by Amy Sackville as soon as it caught my eye. Now I just have to get past that cover and read the book!

Most Memorable Character in 2010

There are a few contenders, but I think it has to be Martha. I met her in The Eye of Love a couple of years ago and I read more of her story in Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George this year. Martha is both ordinary and extraordinary, and completely her own woman. And the incomparable Margery Sharp tells her story with such warmth and wit that it is quite impossible to not be charmed.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2010

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson was just perfect.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi still makes me catch my breath whenever I think about it.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2010 to Read

I fell in love with Colette’s writing years ago and read everything of hers I could lay my hands on. How did Gigi slip through the net? Why did I wait until this year to meet her? I really have no idea!

Reading Cornwall: Past, Present and Future

Twelve months ago I set off on operation “Read Cornwall”, because there were so many wonderful books from and about my own particular corner of the world that I wanted to read and celebrate.

I set myself a target of twelve books a year, and I am pleased to say that I have done it and that I loved it.

I knew that I would, but I had to set the target so that I wouldn’t be distracted by other things.

Here are the books I read:

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins in a restored Victorian edition was heaven, and a book that I could quite happily read over and over again.

Snapped in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho was a mystery built on classic lines, and it captured West Cornwall perfectly. A very solid start to a series.

Bell Farm by M R Barneby was a family tale, simple but very effective, and it painted wonderful pictures of the countryside and a seaside farming community.

Archelaus Hosken’ Dilemma by F J Warren was a little comic gem, cleverly constructed and a masterful piece of storytelling.

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley were my books of the year, telling stories and catching the magic of real lives absolutely perfectly.

Roots and Stars by C C Vyvyan was a memoir of fascinating twentieth century life. Lady Vyvyan was a writer, traveller and nature lover, and I was charmed. i’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley was lovely collection of comical tales set in my hometown in the 1940s. I was charmed and I could quite believe that my grandparents had known these people.

Manna From Hades and A Colourful Mystery by Carola Dunn were cosy mysteries set in a rather idealised 1960s. That threw me for a while, I liked the cast and the stories (well the first story, the second was weak) and so I kept reading.

An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik was another wonderful Victorian travelogue. I loved the author and I loved seeing Cornwall through her observant and perceptive eyes.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley was a gem. The day-to-day life of a twelve-year-old girl who is both seriously ill and wonderfully alive, perfectly observed and beautifully written.

I’m delighted with my dozen for 2010 and there will definitely be another dozen in 2011.

I’m going to tidy up my Cornish Reading page too, and, if anyone else is interesting in joining me, I might just set up a Cornish Reading blog. Let me know …

But back to the books. I already have three lined up:

Framed in Cornwall by Jane Bolitho is lined up for letter B in my crime fiction alphabet.

From East End to Lands End by Susan Soyinka is an account of the wartime evacuation of the pupils of the jews’ Free School in London to a Cornish fishing village. There is a wealth of detail and it is so engaging: a book for both head and heart.

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley has already found its way home, because I so want to meet Gussie again.

And there are many, many more …

Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley

“A book of mine with the rapturous title, Love in the Sun was published in this country in August of the fateful year 1939, three months before the start of Hitler’s war.

It was the story, based closely on fact, of how my wife and I, then very poor, found an empty and derelict army hut on a lonely creek near Fowey in Cornwall, rented it for three shillings a week, and made it into a home, making our own furniture, chiefly from driftwood and ships’ dunnage, growing or catching most of our food …”

I was both confused and entranced by those opening lines. Leo Walmsley’s novel, Love in the Sun, was everything that he says, and quite wonderful, but what was this book. It read like fact, and yet it stood next to Love in the Sun on the Cornish Fiction shelf in the library.

It was fiction, I discovered as I was propelled forward by Leo Walmsley, but clearly fiction that was just a whisper away from fact, and written in a very different world.

Love in the Sun ended with the birth of a child and the publication of a book. Since then, I learned the couple had prospered, moved back closer to their roots in the north, and their family had grown. But there were dark shadows. The war, of course and the couple’s relationship deteriorated. Different attitudes to life, to how to bring up their children took their toll.

It was an utterly real story, one that must have been told so many times, but I was drawn in by the emotional honesty and the simple clarity of the storytelling.

Eventually she took their children and left him.

He retreated to Cornwall, to the army hut by the river where the couple had been so happy. To lick his wounds. To make a holiday home for his children. And maybe, just maybe, to win his wife back when she brought the children down.

The restoration of that home echoes the first book beautifully.

When the children come they love it.

So many lovely small details bring a simple story to life, and real emotional honesty makes it sing.

The children grow up, of course, and so over the years summer holidays in Cornwall and their father’s role, change.

But then maybe a different future calls ….

At the beginning of Paradise Creek I was disappointed that the idyll of Love in the Sun had ended. But I was quickly caught up, emotionally involved, as the story of that end unfolded and I was taken on a very different journey.

The storyteller was flawed, but I saw into his heart and I recognised a real, fallible human being.

Everything rang true. And as I read on I realised how cleverly the structure of this book echoed its predecessor.

It works as a companion piece, and it stands up on its own. Because it is a wonderful piece of storytelling: emotionally involving, simple and utterly believable.

This is a book that will remain in my heart.