Cool stuff from the selectors: Designer dogs, Dickens and decluttering

9781910552773The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon.  By James Campbell

The collaboration between the writer A.A Milne and illustrator  E.H. Shepard was unheard of at the time, and led to an iconic series of books where story and illustration became synonymous with our enjoyment of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, owl, Kanga and Roo.  This is a lovely book of whimsy and memory, including examples of how the illustrations developed, descriptions of the life and family of Shepard and his relationship with A.A. Milne.

9781910636107The Scottish Bothy Bible: The complete guide to Scotland’s Bothies and How to Reach them. by Geoff Allan

Bothies were originally built as rudimentary accommodation for bachelor farm workers, and the vast majority of them were abandoned but have now been renovated by the Scottish Bothies Association.  They are randomly found across Scotland, are free, and often nowhere near attractions or national parks, however the nature of their existence and local make them an attraction in themselves.  These are not luxury 5 star huts, they are basic…”the two low benches can be edged towards the hearth, but there is a strange absence of chairs”. “Not available during stag stalking”. “No stove or fireplace” or “bring your own fuel”.  The views, landscape and the sheer out-of-the-way nature of these places however make up for the lack of home comforts.  Detailed descriptions of how to find them are included along with beautiful photographs of the hut and surrounding areas.

9780847860906At Home with Dogs and Their Designers: Sharing a stylish life  by Susanna Stalk

Coal, a yellow Labrador retriever is owned by Interior Designer Jeffrey Alan Marks.

“Coal travels with me a great deal, so her things are held in a navy leather tote bag that matches not only the car but also the navy leash I designed for her”

The dogs in this books live a charmed life, surrounded by opulent furniture, luxurious soft coverings and well clad owners.  They generally tone in well with surroundings and exude a certain smugness as they lounge beside their owners.  If you have a love of dogs and good interior design then this book will certainly not disappoint.

9781925322330The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter  By Margareta Magnusson

The author puts herself somewhere between the age of 80 and 100, so death is not an abstract idea, but she stresses that this is not a sad book.  Certainly clearing away all that clutter accumulated over a long life, alongside making decisions about the precious to alleviate family arguments, and perhaps dealing with things that you would rather people didn’t pore over after your demise is not a bad idea.  These are all practical suggestions, but this odd little book is as much about ideas on how to declutter as a memory of a life well lived.

9781910463338A Passion for China: A little book about the objects we ear from, live with and love by Molly Hatch

In complete contrast to decluttering is an ode to the past, a collection of beautiful objects with memories attached, this little book is a celebration of the everyday.  It is a mixture of history and art with beautifully painted renditions of old china and ceramics that the author remembers from her childhood, alongside family stories and interesting detail about some of the history behind these beloved pieces.

9781782494492Dinner with Dickens: Recipies inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens by Pen Vogler

This is a book that celebrates the food of nineteenth century England and includes many of the dishes described in the books of Charles Dickens, including recipes and detail about the history of the time. Pete Evans of Paleo fame would no doubt enjoy Bone Marrow pudding, (apparently Queen Victoria had bone marrow every day so he is in good company), however French plums appealed more to me, alongside a good Leicestershire pork pie featured in Great Expectations. Many of the recipes are surprisingly appealing and are made even more interesting with a good dash of history and an even measure of literature.

Cold climate knitting

Wow, we have some great knitting titles from the Scottish highlands and islands, and Scandinavia at our libraries.

Other titles:


Our Zinio for Libraries collection includes several knitting eMagazines that you can download for free and keep. PressReader has knitting magazines that you can view online. You will need your library card number and PIN/password.

A Scottish Arcadia

Reading a book about a garden is an unusual event for me. For a start I don’t like gardening, and I am more of a fiction reader, however Another Green World Linn Botanic Gardens: Encounters with a Scottish Arcadia is as much about the two characters who created this garden as it is about the plants.

Linn Botanical Gardens are located on the shores of Loch Long in Scotland and is home for over 4,000 species of plants. Warmed by the Gulf Stream the valley has its own microclimate.

These shores were once home to summer residences for Glasgow’s wealthy elite. Now they’re known for the ominous, whale-black nuclear submarines which slide from Faslane on Gare Loch to Loch Long, where their warheads are stored in the mountainside. Their proximity, and that of jellyfish and conger eels, made my daily swims in the loch somewhat intimidating.

Linn Gardens was established by Jim Taggart in 1971. Jim belies his 80 plus years, his face is ageless, (perhaps a byproduct of the warm damp air), and you get the sense that he will never leave. His son Jamie took on the task of searching the world for rare species, and between the two of them they have created a place that looks untamed and wild, yet their combined knowledge of science, botany and do it yourself attitude hides an environment that is anything but random.

Jim’s passion for his garden is only matched by his involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and protests against the submarine base and military facilities that loom over the loch. You get the sense that he is a man of strong but quietly held beliefs, a loner – but intrinsically connected to the plight of the world.

The author Philip Hoare has a style of writing that is as gentle as the guardians of this garden, both lyrical and moving. Each piece of writing is followed by Alison Turnbull’s photographs and these add extra meaning to the words and are a story in themselves. I particularly liked the words and photographs describing another aspect of this place – Linn villa, built in 1860.

Jamie leads us past a quince tree and pushes open an unlocked and heavy grey oak door.  Inside, the house appears to have lain untoached for decades.  A patina of archival dust lies on every surface: even the walls seem furry with it. Portraits of ancestors and photographs of family hang gothically; alcoves hold urns; the furniture has seen better days, and may get see better ones….A blue computer screeen glows arnachronistically in a corner.  The contemporary work is not ignored at Linn; it is just subsumed into another green world.

This is a book to savour.  Now all I need to do is save up so I can make a visit.


Where to start at the Hororata Highland Games 2015?

What is the best thing about the Hororata Highland Games? Is it the huge sense of community that has enabled this area to produce the best Highland games in the Southern Hemisphere? Is it the passion and skill of competitors? Or maybe it is the “give it a go” areas where I got to toss my first mini caber? I really cannot put my finger on the best part of the games so I will have to tell you about some of my favourite moments instead.

The cutest moment of the day was when a boy, barely three, complete with a mini kilt, decided to participate in the kids’ tug of war. I am not sure he was pulling the right way but he was still as fierce and brave as the grown up competitors.

Hororata HIghland Games
Highland dancers, Flickr, Hororata-2015-DSC3679.jpg

Then there were the anxious moments where the crowds and I braced ourselves and held our breath as if we could somehow help the caber, stones or weights meet their correct destination. We lamented a loss and applauded a success in an emotional workout which sits next to the physical workout of the heavy weight competitors.

Off to the side of the competition arenas was the fascinating Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) pavilion where you could see recreations of medieval objects and watch combat demonstrations. Just feeling the weight in the chain mail and sitting down in a medieval tent complete with tapestries and ladies gave me an entirely new perspective on the many historical novels I have read!

What else is there to mention in a blog that is supposed to be brief in duration when you could write an essay? Do I mention the Highland dancers in their strength, grace and colour? Should I talk of pie eating competitions, haggis throwing, hurling or the endurance of the winner of the Kilted Mile who had to sprint after downing a can of Irn-Bru and a Hororata Pie? I guess the most useful thing I could say is that you are a fool if you don’t go next year. It is simply a day of heart-warming brilliance.

Browse more photos of the Hororata Highland Games.

It’s not vegetating, it’s enriching – honest! Binge watching TV

I’ve recently become a convert to ‘binge watching’ television series. Instead of the days where you had to watch an episode a week of your favourite drama, waiting desperately for Sunday night to roll around again,  there are so many ways you can set some time aside and watch episode after episode. The Guitar Man and I like to watch 2-3 at a time for a few nights in a row. Three such series we’ve watched recently that you can get from Christchurch City Libraries in boxed sets, are Peaky Blinders, Outlander and Hinterland.

Dinosaurs relax watching TV
Dinovember display at New Brighton Library, November 2014. Flickr CCL-2014-11-05-DinovemberNB-DSC.JPG

These are all very different and interesting in their own ways:

Peaky Blinders is a tale of gangs on the gritty streets of Birmingham after the First World War. It stars not only Cillian Murphy, he of the startling blues eyes and chiselled features, but our own Sam Neill, with a very impressive Northern Ireland accent. It’s a fascinating watch and one thing I enjoyed was the lack of ‘Game of Thrones’ gratuitous violence and random sex scenes. It’s gritty all right, but not excessive. There are strong women together with men both damaged by war and desperate to make better lives, in any way possible.

You think I’m a whore? Everyone’s a whore Grace, we just sell different parts of ourselves.

Outlander is a television adaption of the Diana Gabaldon series of books of the same name.  I’ve not read the books, as romantic history is not usually my bag, but it proved to be quite a riveting series, full of Scottish highland scenery, intrigue, romance, fights, and enough hearty men in kilts to keep anyone into hearty men in kilts happy. I also find you can never go wrong with a Scottish accent.

Hinterland is a gritty bleak murder mystery series, set, not in Scandinavia as all my favourite ones have been lately, such as The Killing and The Bridge, but in Aberystwyth, Wales. Interestingly, it is the first series to be filmed in both English and Welsh, with two different versions made. Each scene was done in English, then immediately in Welsh for the first time ever. Sadly, my Welsh leaves a little to be desired, so I only saw the English version. Wales does bleak very well and Tom Mathias, is a troubled DCI with a mystery past. It’s tightly scripted with great characters, but some of the crime scenes were a little bloody and graphic, just a heads up if you’re not into that sort of thing.

With the winter dragging on, perhaps a little binge watching is in order. Do you have some favourites?

Dark and Chilling – Northern lights

WORD-Web-Event-DARKCHILLINGThe lovely criminal duo of  Yrsa Sigurdardottir (go on do have a try…ỨR-suh SIG-ur-dar-daughter..easy!) and Liam McIlvanney chatted with Crime Watch blogger Craig Sisterson.

Liam McIlvanney was scheduled to appear in the 2010 Press Christchurch Writers Festival but the Darfield Earthquake put the kibosh on that. Four years later he has published the second in his Gerry Conway trilogy Where the dead men go and recently won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

The panel talked at length about the importance of setting in crime fiction. Liam uses Glasgow, the crime capital of Western Europe, as his backdrop and believes Scotland’s history of dour Calvinism has developed into a dark obsession with sin. Scotland’s complex relationship with England particularly prior to devolved power has also allowed crime writers to pose politicised questions about wider society without the necessity of providing answers.

Yrsa acknowledged Iceland’s unforgiving climate lends itself to the idea, if not the reality, of murder. With no real crime to speak of in the Iceland she has to work hard to make her fictional crimes seem authentic and uses social and political context “to add meat to the bone”. Yrsa also plunders Iceland’s long-standing fascination with the supernatural to great and creepy affect.

Cover of Where the dead men goAsked about memorable early reading experiences, Yrsa admitted to being fascinated by her father’s textbook on gruesome infectious diseases. Horrific but enthralling. Liam’s rather more pedestrian fare included Ray Bradbury and Robert Louis Stevenson. Current crime reading included Sophie Hannah for Yrsa while Liam mentioned David Whish-Wilson and Peter Temple, who he credited as the best crime writer in the English language.

Both Liam and Yrsa hold down day jobs; Yrsa is an engineer working in hydro-electric generation while Liam holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University, an academic occupation which could be viewed as “boring and nerdy” but which allows him time to write about evil and achieve cathartic release.

Not particularly dark or chilling but instead a rather cosy and engaging peek at the craft of crime writing.

WORD Christchurch:

Dead Dames – Josephine Tey 1896-1952

Josephine Tey is best known for her mystery novels  featuring gentleman detective Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, but she also enjoyed success during the 1930s as a playwright with both John Gielgud and Larry Olivier starring in her plays. She published several non-mystery titles under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot.

Born Elizabeth MacKintosh in Inverness, Tey trained as a physical education teacher but spent most of her adult life nursing her invalid parents and, of course, writing.

Her first detective novel The man in the queue was published in 1929 and introduced Alan Grant. He went on to feature in six of her titles but most notably in The daughter of time. Here the Inspector, incapacitated and hospitalised, turns his detection skills to the historic mystery of the the Princes in the Tower to determine whether Richard III was guilty of murdering his nephews.

Josephine Tey rejected established mystery formulas and instead strove to tell a variey of stories in a variety of fashions. The novelist Robert Barnard described her work as falling between the mystery novel and the “novel proper” and her titles are populated with “real” people and authentic although now slightly dated dialogue.

A pathologically private person, Tey gave no interviews.  John Gielgud said she was  “proud without being arrogant, and obstinate, though not conceited”. She died of liver cancer in 1952 and gifted her entire estate of £24, 232 18 s. 8d and future royalties to The National Trust.

Deep fried book supper

Being Emily by Anne Donovan
Being Emily by Anne Donovan

Both at home and abroad, the Scots use Robert Burn’s birthday as an excuse to get quite extraordinarily drunk and mind bogglingly maudlin; I like to think we do it very well.

This year it was even better as Rabbie aka the Bard turned 250 on January 25th and gave the Scottish Government and tourist industry a chance to roll out Scots culture big time, celebrating whisky, golf, ancestry, Scottish inventors and innovation, as well as another opportunity for Scots everywhere to get pissed of course.

As a little side project “Reading Roots” has been developed to showcase Scottish literary diversity. Tartan-clad Scottish librarians have been playing hunt the haggis not with “puddins” but with books deposited in public places à la Bookcrossing. Hopefully copies of the Oor Wullie annual, Trainspotting and the Bard’s finest poems will find grateful homes.

The Reading Roots website also has a taster of titles celebrating Scots writers both old and new. The lists include:

  • Glaswegian writer Laura Marney, her latest title My best friend has issues is apparently “a romp through the fleshpots Barcelona”. I also suspect Nobody loves a ginger baby by her may too be worth a scan based, if for no other reason, on the sheer outrageousness of the title. How very un-pc.
  • Jackie Kay is a well-known poet, short-story writer and novelist, Wish I was here is her haunting collection of short stories on the eternal theme of love. She also wrote The trumpet a fantastic and surprising novel from 1998.
  • Christopher Rush’s Hellfire and herring: A childhood remembered records the authors 1950’s childhood in the small Fife fishing village of St Monans and sounds suitably “Wee Free Church” with a salty tinge.
  • To further reinforce that no one does dark as well as the Scots Lin Anderson’s Rhonda MacLeod detective series is described as “a heart-stopping sprint through Glasgow’s dark underbelly”, a welcome distraction now that John Rebus is no longing scooping pints at the Oxford Bar.
  • Finally Anne Donovan gets a mention; she is the author of Buddha-Da, strong in Scots dialect and strong in story, a tale of worlds colliding. Her latest title is Being Emily and follows the family life of Fiona O’Connell, a young girl whose mother has recently died.

Over thirty million people globally claim Scottish ancestry; prove your Scots credentials, grab a whisky, snack on a haggis and read a great Scottish novel.