I'm trying to read more than I usually do, having got out of the habit of daily tucking into a book. So yesterday I spent an enjoyable afternoon with 'Vacant Possession'.
Hilary Mantel's a favourite author, and I've devoured 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies'. She's preoccupied with ghosts and with the half-seen and unseen, with the spooky and the sinister. 'Vacant Possession' is powerful and unsettling, telling the tale of Muriel Axon and the alternative personas she adopts. Muriel was hospitalized for years following the suspicious death of her domineering mother. But now Muriel's on the loose, malignant and unpredictable.
With Halloween looming near I'd recommend 'Vacant Possession, as well as Mantel's other classic, 'Beyond Black'.
Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be saving money, but I'm allowed the odd splurge. Plus it was half price, and I had a quid off voucher too. So all in all I reckon I wasn't so very bad ... I bought another book. This one is 'Crumb' by Ruby Tandoh. It's a very tactile book, very good looking, the kind you can lounge on the sofa with, flicking through recipes, dreaming of creations that - one day - you might get around to making. When I've got the ingredients in the cupboard. When I've got an oven that has more than two temperature settings (low or high. It's a very old oven. I think Mrs Noah might've used it in years gone by.)
'Crumb' isn't going to be a volume I'll bake my way through. It won't be as practical as something like Jack Monroe's budget-conscious recipe book, but Ruby's book is a treat and I'm glad I got it.
On another chilly autumnal day I received something to warm the cockles of my heart. (Cockles? Do hearts really have cockles?)
It was a cheque for £100, courtesy of the Wells Festival of Literature.
They awarded it to me as a runner up in their 2014 short story competition. If you feel like reading it - please do - copy and paste the following into your search field to find a PDF. (I'd do one of those hyperlink thingeys if I could figure out how!) http://www.wellsfestivalofliterature.org.uk/shortstory_results.php
Sometimes a background colour needs to be bold rather than self effacing. If you've got a multi coloured design like these hearts (in centre of photo - still unfinished) it can be tempting to pick a background that doesn't catch the eye, such as cream or a wispy grey.
But most of the colours chosen for these hearts are bright, so work well against a dramatic black. I've got a vague idea of making a bag with this long, narrow piece of needlepoint. Maybe use some velvety material and give it a gathered top. Not too sure, but I'll let the idea rattled around my (largely vacant!) mind for a while and see what happens.
The little pin cushions you can see in the photo are ones that - I hope - will turn into needlepoint kits. If I can stop being distracted by other things .... like Bake Off and a short story anthology and volunteer work and a new series of Peaky Blinders. Must concentrate. Must!
Why I spent 22 quid on a scratching post for my cat Emma I'll never know. I even spent an extra couple of pounds on dried catnip which I smothered the post in to try and attract her to it. Does she scratch at it? Does she heck as like! My armchairs are still a prime target for her claws. Oh well ... better news is that a short story of mine got shortlisted for the Wells Festival short story competition. I'm up against 15 other entries, so I'm not confident of winning, but being shortlisted is a nice ego boost.
I love both writing and reading short stories, so thought I'd share some recommendations of authors you might like too:
It’s such a shame that the writer Elizabeth Taylor’s name has to inevitably be followed by ‘no, not that Liz Taylor!’ If you’ve heard of the film star but not the author, then you’re in for a treat. Virago published ‘Dangerous Calm’, an anthology of her short stories, in 1995 and it’s still a stunner. Turn to ‘A Dedicated Man’ for a wonderful and oh-so-English little slice of life with its petty snobbishness and disappointments.
If you’re looking for a very English setting, try the wartime stories of MOLLIE PANTER-DOWNES. Published in a very tactile paperback by Persephone Books, with a cover painting by Evelyn Dunbar, this anthology contains 21 stories written between 1939 and 1944. They evoke that period, the uncertainty and shortages, the excitement or boredom. They’re like a black & white film on a Sunday afternoon, a world that seems as familiar as it appears distant.
The strange and peculiar stories of Judy Budnitz can unsettle you. They can be sly and sinister, and there are echoes of fairy stories (the European folk tale variety not the plastic Disney versions.) ‘Flying Leap’ and ‘Nice Big American Baby’ are two titles to look out for.
I’m not sure how easy this collection of stories is to find, but also worth a read is Mary O’Connell’s ‘Living with Saints’. Female saints such as Dyphna and Ursula feature in the lives of modern American girls. Sometimes magical, sometimes laugh out loud funny, at other times poignant, you don’t have to be Catholic, or even religious, to find these tales engaging.
Other writers you overlook at your peril are Daphne Du Maurier, Jean Rhys and the superb Alice Munro.
Any other recommendations would be gratefully received.
This is a needlepoint pattern I'm working on at the moment. It's stylized leaves on stems, and the leaves themselves are stitched in chalky kind of colours. Nothing too dark or dramatic. I'd originally intended to make the background a plain cream, but hadn't got any left in the wool stash. Sometimes if this happens, and if you can't afford to re-stock on the colours you need, it's good to put your project to one side for a few weeks/months until money's less tight. However, it can be interesting to 'make do'. Choose from the stash you have and see what happens. That way can lead to fab colour combinations you wouldn't have thought of - or can lead down dead ends and lots of unpicking!
Instead of cream I've used a shade I'd call taupe (that sounds soooo Kelly Hoppen!). In fact, I've used 2 shades of taupe as one skein was slightly darker than the other. I'm still not 100% sure this would-be cushion cover wouldn't look better with a cream background, but we'll see how it turns out when it's finished.
This kind of design would look good in lots and lots of the same shades - all the blues or a forest of greens, maybe every yellow under the sun for a dazzling display. The great thing about tapestry wool is that you can indulge a love of colour to your heart's content (money allowing!)