It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!


Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff


Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace


Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas


Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim


Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood


Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

The title caught me first. Then the cover. And oh, the endpapers, they were quite wonderful …

My imagination had been captured, and I was quite ready for the story to take hold of me. It did.

I found myself in Kashgar, in East Turkestan, in 1923. I was in the company of three lady. Christian missionaries. Millicent was their leader, a very capable woman, who was quite sure of the rightness of her mission but was maybe unable to understand that others might see the world rather differently. Lizzie gave her full support to Millicent: but it seemed that she was a leader and not a follower, and I wondered if she was truly following her own path. And then there was Eva, Lizzie’s elder sister …

“In my mind’s eye I conjure up Sir Richard Burton’s crackling eyes. Give me courage Sir Richard! I have convinced Millicent of my missionary calling. I have convinced a publisher of the worth of my proposed book. I have even tricked my dear sister who believes that I am here in His name to do His Good Works. I should be feeling clever. I have escaped England, but why, then always this apprehension? To my surprise, despite a childhood of reading maps and reading adventure stories, I realise that I am quite terrified of the desert …”

Yes, Eva was a little different. I loved reading her words. I loved seeing the world through her eyes, described so beautifully and so naturally And I grew to love her.

The three women changed – were changed – and their relationships changed, as they ran into difficulties and found their journey halted.

I was absorbed, I was fascinated, as more and more of their characters were revealed. And I so wanted to know where the story would take them.

That made it a little disappointing when I found myself pulled back to contemporary London from time to time.

Frieda was another lady traveller, in an age when travel was taken for granted, and maybe the sense of wonder had been lost.  She worked for a think tank, travelling through the Arab world, carrying out research.  And she had come home to London to find a young Arab man sleeping on her doorstep and a solicitor’s letter, telling her that she was the heir to a woman she knew not at all.

Her story was predictable in places, and there were times when I longed to return to Eva in Kashgar. But there were also wonderful moments, where the story twisted in ways that were quite unexpected, where I found wonderful insights into the human condition. Then I was quite happy to be in such a familiar place. A London that I recognised, but a London that occasionally felt as different as Kashgar.

The two stories had similar themes threaded through: travel, cultural differences, motherhood, women’s independence … so much has changed, and yet so much has remained the same.

They were of course connected. That connection was revealed quite naturally, and it felt completely right.

Indeed, the whole story felt right. I turned the pages quickly, caught up with wonderful characters, fascinating stories, and different worlds, so wonderfully described that they came alive before my eyes.

I suspect that Eva’s love of travel writing, that made her want to travel, reflects the passion of her creator.

“It was reading her descriptions of the candles and lights and the mysterious glittering interiors, the tapirs, silks, the jewels and hangings that had inspired my desire to travel.”

That love shone, and it made it easy for me to forgive those very few weaknesses,  to fall in love with this book as a whole.

And now I think I need to find another book to take me travelling again, to see more of the world through the eyes of other lady travellers …

A Letter to a Lady Traveller from a Bygone Age

My Dear Miss Parrish,

I do hope that you will forgive this intrusion, but I came across your name recently, purely by chance, and I felt that I must write.

You will, I am sure, be pleased to here that one author has just published, and another is about to publish, a book inspired by the travels of ladies like yourself.

Francesca Brill has written ‘The Harbour,’ a novel set in Hong Kong during the Second World War. It is a wonderful, vibrant story (though you may consider it a little racy) and she gives credit to the works of a number of other authors, including Emily Hahn. And I have been reading about another novel that will be published very soon, ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ by Suzanne Joinson. While reading I saw references to the names of two more lady travellers, names that I am quite sure will be familiar to you: Isabel Eberhart and Ella Maillart.

I was inspired to find out more about all three lady travellers, and so I pulled a book from the shelf that I knew would tell me a little more about them before I investigated their writings further.

It is a wonderful book and I found all three of those ladies, and many others who I am sure you will know. Kate O’Brien, Freya Stark, Isabella Bird, Beryl Markham, Margaret Fountaine …

And this is when I spotted your name, and I was curious to learn who you were.

I am so glad I looked, because the editors wrote about you so very well.

“In her memoir, Maud Parrish relates her life of madcap adventure with the breathless, excitable energy of one who cannot stand still. Parrish worked as a dance-hall girl in Dawson City, Yukon, and Nome, Alaska, and operated a gambling house in Peking at the turn of the century. With her ‘Nine Pounds of Luggage’ and a banjo, she claimed to have gone around the world sixteen times, up and down continents, and around and about exotic islands. Parrish died at the age of 98. ‘Nine Pounds of Luggage’ was her only book.”

What spirit you had, what a wonderful life, and what an extraordinary period of history you lived through!

I had to read on, to read a little of your story in your own words, and I am so glad I did. It was quite marvellous!

“So I ran away. I hurried more than if lions had chased me. Without telling him. Without telling my mother or father. There wasn’t any liberty in San Francisco for ordinary women. But I found some. No jobs for girls in offices like there are now. You got married, were an old maid, or went to hell. Take your pick.”

I knew that I had to seek out a copy. I checked with the library, but there was not one single copy to be found in the county. And so I looked to see if any book dealers had copies, but there were very few copies to be found, all priced at more than one hundred pounds. A sum far beyond my limited means!

I am terribly disappointed, but I do have the works of many pioneering ladies that were published over the years as Virago Travellers to enjoy. Some from my own shelves, two that I have been inspired to order, and a few more that I can reserve at the library.

But I should like to add your book to my collection. If there is anything you could do to persuade some enterprising publisher to bring it back into print I should be most grateful, and I am sure that there are many others who would love to read it too,

With the warmest regards,

Fleur Fisher