Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Friday 27 January 2017

This year's New Year's resolution

In another New Year effort to be more organised in my blogging (last year’s resolution to blog books of the month foundered when I had a storm of writing in the autumn), I had my head in a book when I considered all the images of houses I had liked in books, and played with making a list of my favourites and scattering them through the year.

When I thought about houses and rooms I had liked in literature, it turned out that most of them that sprang to mind were in children’s literature, from the days when I had time to read and reread (and reread) books. It also turned out that they mostly had things in common: gardens or plants, books usually, cosiness, fireplaces, some clutter. For some of them, when I went to look for the passage that described the room, I found there wasn’t one, that impressions were scattered about: for others, my image has been coloured by a later film or television adaptation. Lots of lovely rooms, for example, in the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice, but Jane Austen doesn’t often waste her ivory on mere interior d├ęcor.

But for January I’ve chosen something a little different from the others in the series: a newish book, an adult book, and an African book, and it’s more the surroundings of the house that grab me than the inside. It’s from Sally Andrews’ Recipes for Love and Murder, set in South Africa near Ladysmith, a book I’ve previously reviewed here, I think.

“So there was Hattie, at my door. She didn’t have to knock because it’s always open. I love the fresh air, the smell of the veld with its wild bushes and dry earth, and the little sounds my chickens make when they scratch in the compost heap 

‘I do love your house,’ she said, patting my wooden kitchen table. ‘All the Oregon and the thick mud walls. It’s so . . . authentic.’ When Fanie died, I sold the house we had in town and got this one out here in the veld. ‘It’s a nice old farmhouse,’ I said. ‘What’s the matter, Hats?’ She sucked in her cheeks, like the words were falling back down her throat too fast. ‘Let’s sit on the stoep,’ I said, carrying the tray to the table and chairs outside. From my stoep you can see the garden with its lawn and vegetables and all the different trees. And then on the other side of my low wooden fence is the long dirt road leading up to my house, and the dry veld with its bushes and old gwarrie trees. The nearest house, is a few kilometres away, hidden behind a koppie, but the trees make good neighbours. Hattie smoothed her skirt under her as she sat down. I tried to catch her eye, but her gaze jumped all over the garden, like she was watching a bird flying about. One of my rust-brown hens came out from where she was resting under a geranium bush and helped herself to the buffet on the compost heap. But this wasn’t the bird Hattie was watching. Hers flew from the lemon tree to the vegetable patch then hopped from the lizard-tail bush to the honeybells and back again. I heard birds calling all around us, but could see nothing where she was looking.”

Andrew, Sally. Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery (Tannie Maria Mystery 1)

Tannie Maria is food-obsessed and her kitchen produces all kinds of delights, for some of which recipes are included at the back of the book. A house that produces good appetising food also hits the mark with me!

Meanwhile I've just finished Chapter Nine of Thicker than Water - blurb available soon, but it's the tenth Murray of Letho book (good gracious). I've ordered the cover from www.ellieallatsea.co.uk, as before - always something to look forward to! But I suppose that means I have to write the other sixteen chapters!

Thursday 26 January 2017

Multiplying dragons!

These two are for Patti and Gingerlily - you know who you are:

But they're going to a good home.

They have a friend, too:
But she's going to Talia on Sunday!

And that's enough dragons for now.

Friday 13 January 2017

And the year settles down.

The book launch is over, and though the promotion goes on (and the sales and reviews, thank you all very much!) I'm now already in the depths of the next Murray book (set in St. Andrews), the New Year's resolution to read all the stray books I have rather than buying new ones (just yet, anyway, or for the most part, or unless there's a really good offer / cheap second hand book / bookless journey emergency),and  finish knitting all the things for which I have patterns and wool (including some things I'm halfway through knitting).

So what am I reading? Well, I've just finished The City and the City, by China Mieville. I hadn't read one of his before and I really enjoyed it: it's a crime novel though not a proper whodunit, more of a political thriller, but the setting is what makes it interesting. Beszel is a city in eastern Europe, not particularly wealthy or go-ahead, and the body is found there, but it turns out that the case has links with the city next door - and not just next door but wound about Beszel, sometimes sharing space with it, but completely ignored by the inhabitants. It is a punishable offence on either side of the divide to 'see' anything in the other city, which must therefore constantly be 'unseen', a technique the children there are taught from infancy. The cities, divided for centuries, speak different languages and have different cultures, international alliances, attitudes to the world. I found the setting fascinating and would enjoy another book in the same setting, though I think Mieville writes one-offs. Having reviewed the book on Goodreads, I went on to read what others had said about it and was very amused to find the reviews divided - some said 'dire', while others were absolutely saturated with an almost unhealthy enthusiasm for Mieville which, if I'd read them before reading the book, would have put me off completely.

I've just started Now is the Time by Melvin Bragg, a novel set at the time of Wat Tyler's revolt. It's not a period of history with which I'm particularly familiar, so I'm looking forward to learning something, and I think I can trust Bragg to provide me with an accurate historical account. I was more anxious that he would not be able to produce a good enjoyable narrative, but it's been fine so far: the characters are interesting and memorable.

I'm also looking forward to trying another new rime  author (to me), Thelma Hancock: I've managed to find a couple of her paperbacks second hand, but have not yet quite opened them. They have an archaeological aspect, which is always a Brownie point as far as I'm concerned.

What am I knitting? A thick brown jersey, Rowan pattern; an Aran; a Norwegian jersey; a tunic in 4-ply; a guest bed blanket (nearly finished but a lot of sewing up to do), a jacket, and a pink dragon to follow the blue and black one!

The seed catalogues are in, so another question for the year is what am I thinking of growing? The only answer to that so far is 'Not cucamelons!' They were great fun last year but the household consensus is that we'd like a kitchen this year, rather than a jungle.

And what am I writing? The tenth Murray of Letho volume, of which today I finished the fourth chapter. I have to sort out the plot properly, though: at the moment it's simply tying itself in knots, which I shall have to undo carefully. And I'm looking forward to the first Granite Noir festival at the end of February: Stuart McBride, Chris Brookmyre, Gunnar Staalesen, S.G. Maclean, Elly Griffiths (maybe I can persuade her to write in the past tense, which would bring her books up to 5* in my reviews!). It sounds like fun!

Saturday 7 January 2017

This time a woolly dragon

 A clever dragon pattern which has been fun to knit for a friend.

 The wings and legs are stiffened with drinking straws, bending in just the right places.
The original squirrel-dragon (which for convenience at the vet's we call No.2 Cat) watches in mild disdain.