Ideals and Purpose
I struggle with starting. Mainly, because I’m great at imagining the wonderful, perfect end result. I get so overwhelmed by that, that I can’t see where to begin! The pressure to make anything I do into something absolutely perfect is intense, and so, usually, I just don’t start at all.
The problem is, the end result I’m imagining is so HUGE and full of THINGS and very probably the end result of at least a decade of hard work. In letting myself colour in that end result, I miss out on the filling in, on the journey of getting there. All I can see is a huge wall, with this shiny thing at the very top and no way to get up there. I’ve done this with a lot of things, and one of those things is this here little blog.
The Blog and Perfectionism
Ahhhh, this blog! I registered it back in 2021, and I can’t believe how fast that time has gone. I’ve dithered about and just got so overwhelmed with the possibility, with the ideas, with trying to figure out just what to write about that I’ve basically done nothing, save a few occasional posts – and thank you if you’ve read any of them! Cutting myself a little slack, it’s been a wibbly few years, and I think this small internet space has reflected that – wibbly for sure!
I wanted it to be perfect, straight away. But I’m actually coming around to realise, there is no end result. There is no ‘finished’. It’s a reflection of me, wibbliness and all – and that in itself is perfect, right now. I need this space to come to, to dust off the virtual cobwebs hanging around the pages, to just take a breath and read a bit and chat a bit and drink tea and think. And I hope that’s what it will offer for you, too.
A place of tea, cushions and cobwebs. A cosy, welcoming escape from the hubbub and shoutiness of the internet. Cats, birds, and the occasional guinea pig. Cake! Of course cake. Seasons and planting and feet in the mud. The plan is no plan, the plan is realignment, the plan is settling into ourselves. Acceptance and biscuits. Existence. Breathing out. Room for all.
Dare I say a plan?
This year is writing this blog into existence. I’m quite hoping that as the words become more solid, a bit of me will, too. Lofty expectations! But a sneaking suspicion that that might just be the right way to go. A bit of fun along the way. A lot of cake crumbs. Here’s to daring! Slowly. With tea.
October Review and Reset
October is almost over. The brighter days turn to grey and mist, to dark evenings and the brief flare of red, gold and brown autumnal leaves. It’s the time to reflect, to look back over the past year and take stock of all that has happened.
In the wheel of the year, the end of October (or around the end of April in the Southern hemisphere), Samhain is seen as the end of the harvest season, and the start of winter. I feel that natural winding down of the energy of summer is a perfect time to review, and take the time to plant new ideas, new seeds to nestle down in the dark of winter, waiting to come to fruition in the spring. I find the January new year quite jarring – a forced push, in the middle of winter here in the Northern hemisphere, when all else is resting. It’s nice to align with a different timeline, one that fits me, that follows the ebb and flow of the natural world.
You don’t have to follow a particular calendar, to celebrate a certain festival, to begin to wind down and review around this time. It’s the perfect time to take stock of where you are before January, to re-prioritise if needed, to let go or take on board. If you’d like to give it a go, here’s what I do – you can do what feels right for you, but it might give you a few ideas.
Ideas for your October Review and Reset
Creating a theme
I have one theme for the year, rather than resolutions. I think of all the ways I can bring this theme into my life, and the things I particularly want to work on throughout the year. I used to have 3 themes, but eventually realised this didn’t fit well with me – it might work well for you! I decided that having one overarching thing for the year lets me give it more space. Once I have my theme, I think of things that I want to work on that relate to it.
So, as an example, my theme last year was ‘regeneration’. I’d had a bit of a weird time over the last few years, in addition to a close family bereavement the previous month. I wanted to begin to re-root myself in place, to start sustainable systems for food, for nature, and for my mind, and to work on coming back to myself – a regeneration of sorts. I wanted to find a solid sense of self – after years bending and changing to fit in, I wanted a breather and to build some solidity and understanding into my soul! So, for me, the theme of regeneration gave me time to stop and process, to put things I’ve learned from therapy, and from experience, into place to help me re-build a life more true to myself, whoever this self turns out to be.
Reviewing last year’s theme
I’m not a very specific sort of person, and find it very hard (and boring) to plan goals and how to achieve them. If my brain isn’t interested, it’s basically impossible. After years of fighting that, I now give myself the freedom to bend and change with how I approach my theme. I will start things, stop things, go on a diversion, get really into something for a while, then forget all about it. So in my review, I’ll look over the last 12 months as a whole, rather than wondering if I should have achieved a specific thing or not. Did I generally align myself with my theme? Where there some months that were better than others? What have I done over the year that reflected this theme?
The key is finding ways that work for you. Most people I know find it really motivating to set a goal and work out how to achieve it, and if this is you, do that! Whatever works for you, that’s the right way.
Over the last year, I’ve managed to let the garden go wilder (regeneration for nature), begin to process my neurodiversity and find ways to understand my brain more (regeneration for self). I’ve leaned into using my skills learned from my job to benefit my study at university (regeneration of skills) and learnt how to make a small animation from a course I went on (regeneration of skills and self!). Through this, I’ve begun to find confidence in myself, and am starting to find a more solid ‘me’. Did I plan how to do any of these things? No. But generally, I felt I managed to incorporate my theme into my actions. There were a few areas I didn’t focus on (health, movement) but looking back, I give myself space for the things I was experiencing at the time. It wasn’t the right time for those things – whereas now, that baseline work has given me a stronger platform to start to incorporate those for the next year. It’s all very gentle, but true to what I needed in those moments. Sometimes, change isn’t about putting a lot of energy into a project or goal. Sometimes it’s the lack of energy that allows something the space to settle itself.
October Review and Reset: looking back month by month
I use my photo app to jog my memory as to what I was doing each month – usually I look in 3-month (ish) chunks (again with the non-specifics!) and write down any things that happened, and think about how this affected me. Would I want to have acted differently? Did I learn anything? Could I use those learnings to inform my theme for this year? Is there anything I’d like to build on? You could also use a journal to remind you, look at your posts on social media, or review a news site – I often find I remember where I was in relation to big news stories.
I remember things I loved from the last year, holidays, good walks, moments of learning, connection, nature. Wild swims and good laughs. I also remember the more painful times – worrying events in the news, new understanding, grief, loss, sadness. I find this cathartic – the re-living of those moments, knowing you’re here, on the other side (or still journeying through, as the process changes over time). Sometimes I take a few days for this part. Be gentle with yourself, and remember the joy with the pain. It all goes to make you who you are, and is all part of your journey.
I look at what comes out of this process – would I like to use any learnings to inform my theme for this year? In my case, this year, I want to build on my new understanding of my brain and start to work with it, not against it. I want to let go of stress with the garden and provide more places for the beings that share the land alongside us. I want to create resilience for times of unexpected occurrences – building my foraging knowledge, creating plans, starting to use my body again. I want to work more on my spiritual path, to be in nature more, make more time for creativity. Begin to build a plan for after I finish university (which is this blog!). I have no specifics, but I know these things all encompass similarities in the intention behind them. Recognising these similarities starts to help me pin down my theme for the coming year.
Incorporate other tools
You can incorporate other things into your October review and reset. I like to do a tarot spread looking back over the year, along my theme. I look at learnings and where I can build in the future – I find it gives me another perspective to look both behind me and to the path ahead. A meditation would also be a nice action, or a walk in nature to a special spot. I give myself a few days to do my review, usually leading up to Samhain on the 31st, so have a few days disconnected from the world, intentionally creating this sort of temporal space in which to look back and look forwards. I tidy, I bake, I wander in nature, and feel very contemplative!
I like the gentle easing into the next 12 months. I think of a theme, I think of some vague ideas, I leave them to rest in my mind. There’s no pressure to HIT THE GYM or GO ON A DIET or SUDDENLY CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE BEING or DO EVERYTHING STRAIGHT AWAY or ACHIEVE ALL OF YOUR RESOLUTIONS (I think January has a very ‘capitalised’ vibe when it comes to new year’s resolutions!).
Winter is the dark time, the time when everything comes to stillness. We need this rest, this conservation of energy – we are beings like all else. The bulb planted deep needs frost to germinate anew in the spring. The energy of the earth quietens, and with it, we, and the ideas we plant in our review, quieten too. It gives us time to settle and contemplate just where we are going to go, when the days start to lengthen once more. How will we use the coming rise of energy, those long summer days? When the leaves start to unfurl, which of our ideas will unfurl along with them?
October, the year-end of the wheel of the year, is a perfect time to take stock, review your past year, and to set intentions for the year ahead. The darker winter months allow your ideas or goals to mellow and rest, and in spring, it is time to act of some of these little idea-seeds that have been waiting for you.
My ‘theme’ for this year is strengthening.
What will yours be?
Sisters Under the Rising Sun by Heather Morris Book Review 4/5
From the publisher:
In the midst of WWII, an English musician, Norah Chambers, places her eight-year-old daughter Sally on a ship leaving Singapore, desperate to keep her safe as the island falls to the Japanese Army.
Australian nurse Nesta James has enlisted to tend to Allied troops. But as Japanese troops overrun the island she joins the terrified cargo of people, including the heartbroken Norah, crammed aboard the Vyner Brooke merchant ship. Only two days later, they are bombarded from the air off the coast of Indonesia, and in a matter of hours, the Vyner Brooke has sunk.
After surviving 24 hours in the sea, Nesta and Norah reach the beaches of a remote island, only to be captured and held in one of the notorious Japanese POW camps. The camps are places of starvation and brutality, where disease runs rampant.
But even here joy can be found, in music, where Norah’s ‘voice orchestra’ has the power to transport the internees out of the squalor and into the light. Sisters in arms, Norah and Nesta devote themselves to the women’s survival while discovering their own extraordinary reserves of courage, love and strength.
Sisters under the Rising Sun is a story of women in war: a novel of sisterhood, bravery and friendship in the darkest of circumstances, from the multimillion-copy bestselling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey and Three Sisters.
We glimpse the pain of death, the worry of tropical disease and the horrific violence from the camp guards, but the story carries on, and the women carry on, as they must.
Sisters Under the Rising Sun is based on the true accounts of a group of women captured during WW2 and interred in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. We learn of a group of Australian nurses, serving with the Australian Army, and meet others who are also taken prisoner.
The story is mainly told by Nesta James, a nurse, and Norah Chambers, a musician from England. Once captured, the women are sent to a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia. Sisters Under the Rising Sun tells of their experiences in the 3 years and 7 months that they were incarcerated in the camps. The women were often split up and moved to different locations, and subjected to starvation, unsanitary conditions and hard labour. This is a hard-hitting read, but written in a style that somehow sets the reader away from the terrible things happening to the women. For me, it took a while to get used to the writing – I loved Morris’s previous books The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey immediately, but this wasn’t an instant connection. However, as I progressed through the book, the writing style took on a different meaning for me.
For me, I initially felt the writing style a little saccharine in the description of the nurses, a little lacking in depth – short paragraphs and a lack of detail beyond the dialogue. However, this began to evoke a sort of disconnection from the horrific experiences of the nurses during their incarceration in the camps. The nurses are stoic, practical and the deep camaraderie and sisterhood between the women is obviously a source of strength between the group, when conditions, supplies and willpower are slowly eroded away in the camps. It made me wonder that the lack of much emotion in the writing reflected the trauma and damage that these women must have experienced. The factual recounting of deaths as camp conditions deteriorated and illness took over, the brutal punishments endured by some of the women described in just a few sentences, and the way that hierarchy shaped the way they managed to survive in the camp – we are there, but not quite there. As I got used to this, and imagined this grim form of survival, the lack of emotion actually made it more real, somehow.
Having witnessed massacres of their colleagues and friends, a shipwreck and the loss of children and partners, the women find strength in hierarchy and assigning meaning to their days. The division of labour, the meaning given to certain tasks, the grim humour in the face of starvation. Sorting weevils from the rice rations, finding solace in song and music. The focus of the writing on the details of the connection between the women and the strength they found in each other, rather than the horrific experiences they were sharing, showcases the importance of the bond between the group. Kind words and support between each other are given precedence. Individual experiences and acts of solidarity are detailed, with the harrowing events of every day camp life being described in an almost factual way by the women. We glimpse the pain of death, the worry of tropical disease and the horrific violence from the camp guards, but the story carries on, and the women carry on, as they must.
Morris details the real-life stories of the women at the end of the book, and that reminder that these events happened to real people makes the book even more hard hitting. Their stories are truly important, and should not be forgotten. A difficult read, but one that is so worth it.
Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC 🙂
The Maniac by Benjamín Labatut Book Review 5/5
From the publisher:
John von Neumann was a titan of science. A Hungarian wunderkind who revolutionized every field he touched, his mathematical powers were so exceptional that Hans Bethe – a Nobel Prize-winning physicist – thought he might represent the next step in human evolution.
After seeking the foundations of mathematics during his youth in Germany, von Neumann emigrated to the United States, where he became entangled in the power games of the Cold War; he designed the world’s first programmable computer, invented game theory, pioneered AI and digital life, and helped create the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was the darling of the military industrial complex, but when illness unmoored his mind, his work pushed further into areas beyond human comprehension and control.
The MANIAC places von Neumann at the center of a literary triptych about the dark foundations of our modern world and the nascent era of AI. It begins with Paul Ehrenfest, an Austrian physicist and close friend of Einstein, who fell into despair when he saw science and technology become tyrannical forces; it ends a hundred years later, in the showdown between the South Korean Go Master, Lee Sedol, and the AI program AlphaGo.
Braiding fact with fiction, Benjamín Labatut takes us on a journey to the frontiers of rational thought, where invention outpaces human understanding and offers godlike power, but takes us to the brink of Armageddon.
Review contains spoilers.
The Maniac…hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge…the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power…
Labatut’s first novel, ‘When we Cease to understand the World’, absolutely knocked me sideways. I’d never read anything like it – a heady, manic mash up of truth, fiction, and something almost in between the two. It’s a book that’s stayed in my mind ever since I first read it, and now, with The Maniac, Labatut is back and I’m glad to report it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.
The Maniac tells the story of mathematical genius Janus (John) von Neumann, from the points of view of those surrounding him, following his journey from precocious childhood, his achievements in physics and mathematics, and his work on the atomic bomb. The Maniac is hard reading in places, with Labatut’s skilful weaving of fact and fiction painting a devastating picture of the interplay between genius and callousness. Particularly hard hitting is von Neumann’s calculations of the exact height from which to drop the bombs for maximum devastation and his abstinence in signing a joint letter to President Eisenhower, in which a group of nuclear physicists hope that the bombs they developed are never used.
The main section of the book, concerning von Neumann, is told by those who work and live alongside him – school friends, colleagues, spouses. The overall picture is chilling, detailed and ultimately devastating. I found Labatut’s writing to show a sort of ease with which horrific weapons can be developed in the name of scientific advancement, and an apparent casualness in the work of some of the most intelligent minds employed to work on those weapons. The Maniac differs in tone from Labatut’s previous book – although the commentary concerning von Neumann’s seeming lack of morality may touch on similar concepts. At what point does genius become madness? The Maniac, however, hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge – not madness, individually, but the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power and the consequences that follow.
The Maniac begins, and ends, with separate sections which seem to be mostly factual, although there is no indication as to which parts may or may not be fictionalised – and as someone unversed in the intricacies of chess tournaments, I would have no idea! The book begins with an account of Paul Ehrenfest, a physicist, becoming increasingly disillusioned by developments in the field and overwhelmed by societal implications for his disabled son. Terribly, Ehrenfest kills his son and commits suicide immediately afterwards. For me, this opening chapter has echoes of When We Cease To Understand The World – the tipping point between genius and madness. After von Neumann’s death, the book ends with a detailed account of the development of artificial intelligence, specifically relating to chess and the game Go, and the ability to defeat human players. As we enter this new world of AI and unknown power, we need to remember the consequences that may follow when pushing the limits of knowledge. A full 5 stars – I loved this.
Thank you to #Netgalley for the ARC 🙂
Borage loves to be in our garden. Blue and white and spikier than you’d expect, with little hairs glowing white in sunlight and bees bumbling around all day. It self-seeds with abandon, covering what was once the veg patch, and is now the borage patch. I sit in a corner and watch things flying in and out for hours, sipping a cup of tea, watching the sun fade away to shadow and butterflies going to bed, making way for the night-flying moths. Frogs underneath, snails sliming their way around the bottom, deterred by the spiny hairs. Bees, of course – a variety of bumbles, then honeybees. Wasps, hoverflies, smaller flies that I don’t know the names of. A small patch, in the grand scheme of things, but layers and layers of life, of beauty, of gentle peace.
Looking Glass Sound Book Review 4/5
From the publisher: “Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see… In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger. This book will be Wilder’s revenge on Sky, who betrayed his trust and died without ever telling him why. But as he writes, Wilder begins to find notes written in Sky’s signature green ink, and events in his manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Is Sky haunting him? And who is the dark-haired woman drowning in the cove, whom no one else can see? No longer able to trust his own eyes, Wilder feels his grip on reality slipping. And he begins to fear that this will not only be his last book, but the last thing he ever does. Discover the new dark thriller from the bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.”
A book that you will want to read in one sitting – page-turning, addictive, and thoroughly unsettling.
Wilder’s parents inherit a cottage in laid back Whistler Bay. Spending a summer there, he meets Harper and Nat, building a close friendship over the following months – set against the unsettling background of local legends, specifically a killer named the Daggerman. What seems to start as an idyllic teenage summer starts to become something more, and events come to a head with a gruesome discovery. Years later, Wilder returns to Whistler Bay to complete his book about the events of that summer, and to make sense of the events that changed his life. However, things were not – are not – what they seemed.
This truly is a book of two halves. I was drawn further and further into the story, but towards the end I was wondering just what was going on! Safe to say, nothing is as it seemed – I absolutely did not see the end coming, at all. The story flits between timelines and characters, giving an uneasy feel which is apt, but makes for a confusing read. I’m still not too sure what actually happened in the build up to the final revelation, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that – I love a storyline with twists and turns, however this one left me spinning! I’d have liked to spend more time with the events towards the end of the book – maybe a slower reveal, as the final fast pace was a contrast to the slow build up. I wanted more richness, I wanted to explore the events further, I wanted to understand and spend time in those delicious dark details.
This is my first Catriona Ward book, and from reading other reviews the twists and turns seem to be a hallmark of Ward’s style – I’m so tempted to re-read and get a better purchase on the events that transpired in Whistler Bay. One thing is for sure though – it’s quite dark and very, very twisty, although I wouldn’t call it a horror. I honestly found the last few chapters hard to follow, but I also enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that had me thinking “did that actually just happen?!” at multiple points – I loved the way the story suddenly seemed to drop off a cliff and transform into something altogether more sinister, but it was very close to the line of possibly being too twisty for me – I’m still undecided. Although it’s made me want to seek out more books by Catriona Ward, so that can only be a good thing!
Looking Glass Sound was published on 20th April 2023.
Thank you to Netgalley from the ARC of this novel!
What I’m planting in April
The chill of March is slowly ebbing away, and we have finally put up the heated propagator. Last year, I got over excited and put it up in February – the outcome being that when the plants outgrew the propagator, it was still too cold to plant them out. So, I’ve held back a little this year and hopefully got the timing right. As always, it’s a mix of veg and flowers – I usually plant way too many things and get overwhelmed, so I’m trying to hold back this year and just keep on top of everything.
The field beans and broad beans from last month are mostly germinated, including the saved seed, so that’s exciting! A few more weeks and I’ll pop them out into the veg patch, hopefully around the end of April as it warms up.
What I’m planting in April in the heated propagator
The nights are still cold and frost is still a risk here in Yorkshire, so I’m starting a few bits off in the propagator. Last year it we tracked how much it cost to keep on, and it was negligible – this year it seems to be about 2p an hour after all of the price rises! So we’re popping it on overnight at around 21c, and the residual heat and sunlight keeps it warm through the day.
A slight cheat as I planted these in March, and they’re just peeking their little leaves above the soil. Our chillies did really well last year so this year I’ve got a few more varieties, all from Real Seeds. Last year, ‘Nigel’s Outdoor Chillies’ did excellently in the conservatory, eventually even turning red, and they’re a great versatile chilli with a medium heat, so more of those this year, alongside a hot lemon aji ‘Lemon Drop’ and ‘Kristian’ yellow chillis. I have a feeling chilli jam might be a project later in the year!
Alongside the chillis are some tomatoes – I never really have much success with them but am trying again – I think the greenhouse is slightly too shady for ripening, as even early tomatoes take until the beginning of autumn to start to redden. This year I’ve popped some optimistic ‘Moneymaker’ in, plus some ‘Latah’ early tomatoes that I saved the seed from last year’s crop. The moneymaker seeds say to plant before 2007, but they came up last year so fingers crossed!
Beans and more
I have also sown runner beans, sugarsnap peas, broccoli, sprouts and both round and stripy courgettes. Last year these mostly got eaten by the supersnails but we’ve got to keep trying hey!
Flowers in the propagator
I’m starting off some flowers too – a couple of trays of lobelia, cosmos and a few sunflowers – ‘Vanilla Ice’ from Higgeldy Garden and a nice dark red one. I’ll leave off and sow more in May. I love to sow Lobelia in trays as it’s so easy to divide and pot on – I just pull a clump of soil off with the little seedlings and pop it into a new pot. Our lobelia lasted until the first frost last year. As it grows I pot it on until in a large pot, where it spills over the sides and looks amazing. It seems to do well located around the front which is in shade until the afternoon, then full sun until sunset.
Flowers in the greenhouse
I’ve planted some sweet peas in the greenhouse too – I always find they go leggy if I plant them too early, so I’ve left them until now then they can go straight out when they’re ready! I’m sure there’s a reason for them being leggy (too little light? too much light? who knows) but they grow pretty fast planted later on so no worries. I’ve also sown calendula, brachycome, alliums, rudbeckia and foxgloves in the greenhouse, as well as a hanging basket full of red clover as a bee feeding station!
When to plant out seedlings
Here in Yorkshire, we are still getting a risk of frost and night temperatures are anything from -1c right up to 8c or 9c, so I’ll wait until the risk of frost has passed – probably the start of May to be safe. I find PlantMaps has a great last frost estimator for the UK, and I’ll leave a week or so after that. It’s worth checking the dates for your location as they vary dramatically! After plants have outgrown the propagator, I’ll put the plants into the greenhouse at night and outside during the day to acclimatise. After a few days, it’s into the ground, with some fleece if temperatures are going to drop. Mostly they’re fine, until they get eaten by snails of course.
What’s flowering in April in my UK cottage garden?
The bulbs are just about to break into full riotous colour – hyacinths are out and filling the air with a wonderful smell, the daffodils are nodding in the breeze, and tulips are just about opening! There are fat bumblebees buzzing around the blackcurrant bush, and the pond plants are shining yellow joyous faces above the wriggling tadpoles. Pansies are bobbing about too, and my favourite primrose is absolutely beautiful with its dusky pink flowers. The dandelions are just coming into flower – I leave them all for the bees, and make jam from the flowers, too. I think I might do a future post about why dandelions are so great!
I’d love to know what’s flowering in your garden, or out and about where you live? If you’re in the southern hemisphere, is autumn in full swing now or are flowers and leaves hanging on?
The Square of Sevens Book Review 5/5
From the publisher:
“Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s The Square of Sevens is an epic and sweeping novel set in Georgian high society, a dazzling story offering up mystery, intrigue, heartbreak, and audacious twists.
‘My father had spelt it out to me. Choice was a luxury I couldn’t afford. This is your story, Red. You must tell it well . . .’
A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.
Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?
The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .”
Although The Square of Sevens is a long read, I loved every minute of it. I’m a big fan of Laura Shepherd-Robinson and this novel is another great read. A riotous ride through the 1700’s, we follow narrator Red and her journey through the highs and lows of society, plying her trade as a cartomancer.
Previously travelling with her father, reading cards, Red becomes a ward of the wealthy Mr Antrobus after her father passes away. Red’s skills in cartomancy bring her to the high society of Bath, where she uncovers information about her family that starts her on a quest to uncover the truth. As I read on, I got the feeling that there was something else at play – things are not always as they seem!
The story moves location often, covering Devon, Cornwall, London and Bath. As the layers of the characters were peeled back, the plot thickens and I found myself grasped by who, or what was going to surprise me next. A particular highlight were the characters and dark secrets of ‘Leighfindell’ – an endless trove of gossip and potentially ruinous family affairs – as events pick up pace, the huge manor house was an excellent backdrop for it all to play out.
I loved Red as a narrator and was truly invested in the journey – every chapter brings further levels to the story and there are both wonderful and odious characters galore, which I loved! I was gripped – it’s a real page-turner. The ending was an absolute surprise to me – I think I actually gasped out loud. Brilliantly researched and full of colour, vibrancy, twists and turns, I fully recommend this as a chunky holiday read or a book to fully escape into. Loved it!
The Square of Sevens is published on 22nd June 2023.
Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC of this novel!
Wow February, you’ve treated us here today in the UK. The early mist gave way to bright blue skies and the first warm sunshine of the year. The birds have been in full voice, blue tits popping in and out the next box, and I flung open the shed door to attempt to burn off some of the layer of winter mildew that has inevitably settled on every surface.
I put the lemon tree outside to sit in the sun and opened every single window as wide as it would go to let the fresh air clear out the cottage. Best of all, the sun has worked its way just high enough to shine on my favourite sitting spot. Spring is really coming along! I love to think of these days as full of birdsong and bulbs, as little green shoots begin to pop up and feathered friends begin to seek out nest locations. The magpies are beginning to tentatively return to their nest from last year – roosting on the branch just below, hopping in and straight out, playing around and around. I hope they’ll stay there again this year.
I know there will be frost to come, and the forecast shows rain for the days ahead. But this one day gives me a much-needed lift, a glimpse of longer, warmer and brighter days ahead. I’ve pottered around the garden a little this morning, cutting back last year’s teasel heads, scattering the remaining seeds on the cobbles for the birds.
The bright days lift my mood massively. I find myself dragged down by the endless grey of UK winter – at first a novelty, but after a few months it becomes a weight. I think everyone feels it, somehow – the explosion of joy that a sunny day brings in winter is quite fun to be a part of. People out and about walking, gathering, having a chat, exchanging pleasantries as they pass on the pavement or towpath. The buzz of distant DIY power tools echoing down the valley as soon as the sun comes out, even if it’s still in the low single figures. One or two bright days in the middle of the seemingly endless grey is such a treat here!
So today, I try and get as much washing done as possible to hang in the sunlight. I wipe windows and feel an urge to move the furniture around (my favourite thing to do) and generally come out of hibernation a little. Do you feel this in spring, too? We’re still part of this big, ever shifting wheel. We feel the seasons change, even now, even if we forget those parts of us long hidden.
With tea in hand, I head out to enjoy the last few rays of sunshine, and hope for more tomorrow.
My mind is full, and it’s ok. I learnt recently from a lecturer that they weren’t able to read any fiction books during their doctorate, because their mind was full of information for their studies. It made me think about how I’ve struggled to get back into reading for pleasure, struggled to get into doing anything, really, for the last year or so. After beating myself up for this repeated failure to get anything done, I’ve realised that’s probably happening to me, too. The reason isn’t because I’m useless, as my brain keeps helpfully suggesting. It’s because my mind is full.
When I say full, I don’t mean full of knowledge, although I wish that was the case. My memory keeps hold of any given fact for approximately 3 seconds before chucking it over its shoulder and moving on to something more shiny. Instead, my mind is grinding away in the background, forging connections and figuring things out when I’m not paying attention. I feel like I’m not doing a lot, and it’s true, I’m not – but my mind is there, munching through information for me, until suddenly I wake up and am able to add some more words to my word count, analyse some more numbers, put something across in a way that finally makes sense.
Figuring out how to work with my brain, not against it, is a whole new ball game. I’m trying to comprehend this newly discovered neurodiversity, understand how I process information (or not) and divert the tempting feeling of regret into something more powerful. I’m nearly 40 and it’s the first time I feel like I might be tentatively trying to make friends with my mind. It’s there, always full of a million things, seeing infinite connections and possibilities every hour of every day. It’s exhausting – but also exhilarating. How do I work alongside it?
I’m finally working out why I can’t remember anything that happened in the last few hours, days or weeks. Why I’ve spent three years learning a subject and can’t remember even the most basic facts about it, but I know every boyband lyric from two decades ago. Why my mind is empty yet crammed full at the same time.
The constant bit of a song or two on loop, the half-formed images that constantly replace each other, the quote from a tv show that plays round and round, the chattering, the lightening-quick overview of any problem and a million and one solutions, the big thinking and infinite ideas, but no clue how to actually start anything. Constantly losing things, but picking up on almost imperceptible information about a situation. White-hot anger and the deepest joys. It’s all still settling with me – yet I feel a kind of peace, too.
I know now that I can feed it some complex problem, forget about it, and a few weeks later, my brain will have figured it out by itself. I’ll wake up one day and suddenly, I’ll be able to do The Thing that just recently was absolutely impossible. I trust that I will be able to produce work absolute last-minute that will be, if not perfect, to a decent standard, without having to draft and re-draft and re-draft. I try not to feel bad that I have to follow the whims of my brain – if it’s not into something, then it’s absolutely impossible to force it. Funny old thing.
But brains aren’t infinite as much they feel it. It’s just recently I’ve realised just how much I’m asking mine to do. No wonder I come home and zone out watching youtube, scrolling, or floating away to the deep wub of drum and bass. That little lump of grey matter is munching through universes in the background. Studying for a PhD has upped the game, and I almost physically feel the limits. No wonder I find it hard to get anything started for this blog, much as I want to. My brain’s already pre-occupied and working full pelt.
So, I’m going to try and cut my brain-friend some slack. I’ve spent 40 years at war with it, really, when it didn’t deserve it at all – it was just a little different from the norm. Of course it was.
In those 40 years, my mind has never been empty. I never realised that you could think of nothing, or even just one thing at a time. It’s been like a 40-year rave inside my head and I’ve been like the spoilsports that call the cops and try and shut it down.
I think it’s time to learn to dance alongside it, finally, although I think I’ll also need to make sure there’s a chill-out room, too…!