Bookish thoughts

Book-ish, Crickhowell

You may remember that I made a conscious effort to resist acquiring books new to me for as long as possible, bearing in mind the many, many unread titles that I already had teetering on my shelves.

As we’re now a quarter of the way through 2020, you bibliophiles out there may (or, more likely, may not) be wondering how well I’m resisting.

The brief answer is, not bad, as I’ll explain. But I’m now in a quandary.

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The Joy of Books (3)

One of the joys of moving to Crickhowell in 2014 was discovering it had an independent bookshop. Called, aptly, Book-ish, it was housed in lovely but cramped premises. That didn’t stop owner Emma from inaugurating the first Crickhowell Literary Festival in 2015.

I’ve blogged several times before about the festival so I won’t repeat myself here; instead I want to sing the praises of the bookshop now it’s firmly established on the High Street.

But don’t take it from me: Book-ish has won many, many awards.

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Deluge

Crickhowell Bridge after the Usk overflowed its banks

Storms across Northern Europe are becoming more frequent and more violent. The most recent, Storm Dennis, affected not only Ireland and the UK but continued to wreak havoc on Denmark, Germany, Estonia and around the Baltic.

Global warming puts more moisture into the air which then has no choice but to precipitate in torrents, saturating the earth and causing flooding, landslips, environmental damage and, of course, severe disruption to human activity and distress to communities.

Ever since the floods associated with the Sumerian Utnapashtim, the Greek Deucalion and the Biblical Noah we have all been familiar with tales of ‘universal’ deluges and their survivors — not just the who but the how and the why — and my mind drifts to how modern writers have depicted similar disasters in fiction.

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CrickLit 2019

CrickLit (2018 dates) advertising, Dragon Inn, Crickhowell

Five years on the Crickhowell Literary Festival goes from strength to strength, buoyed up by the small market town voted having the Best High Street in the UK and also rated the best place to live in Wales by The Sunday Times.

As usual the programme had a judicious mix of UK and Welsh authors and their books, some of which I volunteered to steward at, and all were curated by festival directors Emma Corfield-Walters of Book-ish and Anne Rowe, Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester and Emeritus Research at the University of Kingston.

Just to give a flavour of proceedings, these are the talks I was present at, along with brief summaries.

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Lost in books

Posts may be a little more intermittent over the next few days: I am stewarding at the fifth Crickhowell Literary Festival, directed by Emma Corfield-Walters of Crickhowell’s bookshop Book-ish and by Anne Rowe, author and Emeritus Research Fellow at Kingston University. To top it all I’m also involved in a couple of musical performances.

After that I shall be away for a few days but shall still attempt to keep up a flow of posts, though one or two will be reposts from the archives. If I’m a little less assiduous at this time about liking or commenting on posts in blogs I follow I apologise in advance — you know it’s not personal!

Crickhowell Bridge, 1840

Alive with the sound

High Street, Crickhowell

As many know, Crickhowell in Wales was recently named as the Best Place to Live in Wales by The Sunday Times (as well as being awarded the accolade of UK’s Best High Street).

What better time then for this small market town to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Crickhowell Music Festival, the main events of which took place in St Edmunds Church approached, appropriately, from the High Street down Silver Street.

Under the inspired musical direction of conductor Stephen Marshall since the festival began, its main event in 1995 was a semi-dramatised performance of Purcell’s masque The Fairy Queen; and this was a work the Choral Society chose to repeat in this special year, along with Bach’s magnificent B minor Mass. Bookending these performances were a recital given by the choir’s young choral scholars and other young musicians and, as a finale, a rousing concert by Welsh folk band ALAW, both in the town’s Clarence Hall.

As a marriage of words and music it seems an apt event to note here on this bookish blog written by a classically trained musician…

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Bookish town

Today, 7th March 2019, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland: “The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.”

This post has a twofold purpose: to mark World Book Day and, as part of Dewithon — the Wales Readathon — to celebrate the contribution of Book-ish bookshop in Crickhowell‘s High Street to the literary life of Wales. As a resident I’m quite happy to blow the trumpet and bang the drum for this small market town!

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Wrinkles in timelines

Wapping-on-Thames (detail) in the 1860s by James Neil Whistler

This is the first in a series of occasional posts discussing Joan Aiken’s Dido and Pa, one of the instalments in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence (otherwise known as the Wolves Chronicles). Yes, it features wolves too!

Here, however, I wish to examine the vexed question of how the novel fits into the Chronicles timeline, and why the answers we seek may not be straightforward or even resolved in a satisfactory way; it won’t be a short post, sorry.

If you are new to Dido and Pa — or indeed to the Chronicles — you might want to look away now. (Links are to posts detailing various attempts to justify my conclusions on chronology.)

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The Joy of Books (1)

There’s something about book anticipation that gets to this particular bibliophile. When I was a kid I remember being intrigued by the packaging of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar with its fivefold image of one lad in various stages: Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation and Realization. Maybe I won’t quite go through all five stages before acquiring the desired object — in my case, the book rather than a bar of chocolate — but that stage of expectation is one that I especially relish. Even the image of books (as in a watercolour of vintage paperbacks hanging on our wall) is enough to have me salivating.

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Where was The Shire?

Black Mountains
Black Mountains above Crickhowell, Powys, with Table Mountain’s silhouette on the right

Harken, friends of Halflings, I have a question! But before I ask it, let me lay bare the background.

Here in the Black Mountains of Wales, in the Vale of the Usk, there is a popular local tradition that J R R Tolkien was inspired by the local scenery and placenames to borrow several locations, thinly disguised, for his vision of the Shire in Middle Earth. Among the several places I’ve either seen or heard touted are Buckland near Brecon, Llangattock Mountain north of the South Wales Valleys, Sugar Loaf Mountain by Abergavenny, and Crickhowell, all in this southeastern corner of Wales.

For example, as part of the annual Crickhowell Walking Festival (“Now in its 10th year!”) is a walk which is described thus: A Walk Through Tolkien’s Shire.

Crickhowell is thought to be the inspiration for “Crickhollow” village in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit”.

Of course you will immediately note several objections to this statement. The phrase “is thought” is a wonderful catch-all: no reference, no evidence, and no doubt easy to conclude that it is the actual inspiration. Secondly, Crickhollow is not mentioned in The Hobbit, though it does appear in The Lord of the Rings. Thirdly, it is not a village. In Chapter V of The Fellowship of the Ring, ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ we’re told that Crickhollow is “Frodo’s new house”:

It was an old-fashioned countrified house, as much like a hobbit-hole as possible: it was long and low, with no upper storey; and it had a roof of turf, round windows, and a large door.

Let’s put these objections aside for the moment as probable misrememberings. Here is my actual question, and I’m genuinely interested in the answer: Did Tolkien actually visit this part of Wales? And where might I find the evidence? (Yes, I know technically that’s two questions, but they are inter-related!) Only then can we evaluate whether south Powys has a genuine claim to be a model for the Shire.

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Do you love libraries?

library-love

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

I’m sure you’ve seen this quote all over social media, supposedly by the classical writer Cicero. However, I’d never seen the source given, leading me to suppose that this was one of those fake quotations that the internet is awash with, aimed at those who would be in sympathy with the views expressed.

Nevertheless, searching for the Latin translation seemed to offer some sort of resolution, and so it proved. The sentence is from a letter Cicero wrote to his friend Terence (found in Epistulae ad familiares Book IX, Epistle 4):

si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.

The literal translation is something like “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will be amiss.” The implication being that if you create a kind of bibliophile’s paradise — an oasis of calm perhaps — in your private library, where you can meet and discuss matters with your friends, all will be fine. You can see that the slightly inaccurate ‘quote’ usually given resonates rather more with modern feelings about public (as opposed to private) libraries.

I don’t need to tell you that in these straitened times — when we’re all told to tighten our belts even more, when all the fat has been sliced off public purses until the bone is reached — much of local government in the UK is trying their best to circumvent the admirable provisions of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 in an attempt to fit in with government austerity diktats. And, equally, some of the public is trying to say “hands off” in every which way it can.

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Steward’s enclosure

www.cricklitfest.co.uk
http://www.cricklitfest.co.uk

Last week I was a steward. No, I wasn’t managing property, household affairs or dining arrangements, nor was I recommending wine or being a flight attendant. I was in fact helping out at a local literary festival, one of a team setting up venues, checking in ticket-holders and selling books.

‘Steward’, by the way, comes from the Old English stigweard, which is a compound of stig, hall or building (it survives as ‘sty’ in Modern English, as in the lowly pigsty) and weard, a ward, guard or keeper. In the 13th century one of the High Stewards of Scotland — those who managed the Scottish king’s finances — took the title as the family name of Stewart. The seventh High Steward became King of Scotland in the 14th century, thus initiating the Royal House of Stewart, and this spelling survived until the period when James Stuart became king of both Scotland and England.

This is all well and interesting, I’m sure, but as usual I’m wandering around the houses. Back to the literary festival, the second one to be held in this Welsh border town.

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Books of the dead

Of course stories aren’t just to be read in the pages of books, magazines or papers; they can be found written wherever one chooses to interpret words strung together in phrases, sentences and chapters. And many such can be sought in the churchyards, graveyards and cemeteries of our villages, towns and cities, in memorial plaques on walls or embedded in church floors, and on markers placed in isolated spots to indicate the resting places of beloved pets or even Dark Age personages.

I like browsing in churchyards, especially early ones. Gravestones from the Victorian, Georgian and even earlier periods frequently have epitaphs and inscriptions which are more interesting, even more curious than modern examples. Pious doggerel, classical epigrams, Biblical allusions all have their place on these books of the dead, and very occasionally we have fragments of a tragic tale, as in the two instances I’ve culled from the memorials surrounding Crickhowell’s parish church of St Edmund, Powys, Wales.

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Feeling festive

Crick-Lit-Fest-Logo-black

The second Crickhowell Literary Festival takes place October 1st-9th and, because I shall be stewarding for many of the events, blogging will be rather sporadic during this time. Be prepared for the odd repost of reviews you may have missed!

The festival is jointly sponsored by local hostelry The Dragon Inn, a Grade II listed coaching inn dating from the late 1500s, Book·ish, Crickhowell’s jewel of a bookshop, voted Best Independent Bookshop in Wales and the Midlands in the 2016 British Book Industry Awards, and a number of other local initiatives. The sixty-plus events will highlight a number of authors, feature workshops and film screenings, and include literary dinners and book clubs.

Crickhowell Literary Festival: http://cricklitfest.co.uk
Book·ish Bookshop, Crickhowell: http://www.book-ish.co.uk/