Rain or Shine?

Do you go out whatever the weather?

A little soggy from this morning’s walk around our local streets, I can see the sunshine has now come out too late for me. Mere minutes ago, rain was dripping off the fur on my warm but not completely effective hood on that blessed of all things, my big coat. I walk in and deposit various layers on the floor, including my sweater which is a bit damp too. My husband looks bemused at my wet hair which has clung to my face. My gear is definitely not quite up to the task.

I wish this was my view when I went for a walk

I got a lovely photo of my nephews on the wet and windy beach a few weeks before lockdown 2 started with the caption from my sister, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” It occurs to me that she is much more game than me, probably generally more adventurous, but she’s not wrong. And whether it’s the wrong clothing, or just general wimpiness, I don’t tend to go out in all weathers. I might write off a rainy door as one when we can’t get out.

And isn’t that the perfect metaphor for life at the moment? Learning to dance in the rain. Or at least trying to push ourselves to go out in it, even if we don’t feel much like dancing at the moment. I do love an extended metaphor (see my thoughts on swimming) but I will stop now and explain what I mean.

The last few weeks, months really, I have felt so stuck in the quagmire of anxieties about the pandemic, and changes that are happening in my life that I have hardly been creative at all. It is all-consuming to be caught in anxiety and even though I know there are things I can do to make it better, sometimes I am not doing them. So then I have to dig deep and go for a walk, meditate, try and get enough sleep. And even more, I need to direct my creativity somewhere.

Guilty confession time, though I have been carrying around my own personal rain cloud, I have found some time to be creative. Why guilt? I am shamelessly working on a new project, a few thousand words a week. I know the allure of newness is a problem. I know that I will probably end up with two large unfinished projects rather than one. But for now this my way of dealing with the weather.

Life in Lockdown, part 2

Watching the headlines, wondering when you are going to see your mum again has become my main past time

It’s been one of those months where I am just trying to cope. I am going to be honest, I have lost count of the rules. I think there is a Grandma exception now so my Mum can come and see my son and look after him but I am not sure as households can’t meet. So, I assume that means Mum and I could meet outside but she lives miles away. And there is no unnecessary travel. Is anyone really sure? Will I ever see my sister again?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Back to that Zoom life

So instead we try Zoom birthday parties and remember fondly how we wrapped up warmly for a wintery picnic while we could. In anticipation, I got heat-tech clothing and my big coat out of the loft weeks ago. But now we are staying locally, I will make myself walk again in nature near my house. Like in March when the government told us to exercise everyday, I can do this again. I have committed to this goal at least.

I don’t remember if I signed up for anything new in the first lockdown. I think I was just trying to survive, but I have just got enough sense of FOMO when I see friends attending art classes and sound baths that I might just book online experiences this time around. Or maybe I will go back to baking comfort foods and listening to audiobooks.

The term lockdown has been overused to the point where it is at once meaningless and terrifying to me, triggering that first shock in March when you could not believe it would happen. But it has happened again and I am a little numb to it all apart from these vague plans.

I am perhaps more aware of needing to entertain myself virtually, whilst trying not to numb out with hours of Netflix. I also now need to finish the massive project at work so that I can work from home again. Despite the government saying weeks ago now that you should work from home if you can, this hasn’t been feasible for me. Based on the buses and trains we have been on, a lot of work places are not facilitating this as much as they were in Spring so we will see what happens with this in the next few weeks.

Through all of this confusion and readjusting to lockdown life, I have made little time to blog or write. But I have set myself a project I have set myself this lockdown month. I will whisper it, in case trying it curses me with writer’s block. NanoWrimo. Just a small word target to keep me at it each day we are stuck inside. I am not sure how it will go, as pressure to work sometimes backfires but I will let you know if I can reach my target as the month goes on.

How about you, is anyone else using lockdown to write? Even just a little?

REVIEW: Wakenhyrst

I have written of my love of gothic fiction before and Michelle Paver’s recent bestseller is a new favourite

Wakenhyrst is a gothic mansion hidden in the fenlands of Suffolk near where I recently spent a week away so I was very happy to make this one of my first autumn reads. Suffolk is an area full of myth, it’s the perfect spot for this tale of horror, both imagined and real. As the blurb describes, the house is surrounded by” a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father. When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.” The old manor house, this one being encroached on by the smell and damp of the fen, is full of great cast of characters whose lives are unravelled by the discovery of the painting.

I was a bit confused at first whether this novel was going to lurch back and forth between the 1960s journalist writing about Wakenhyrst and the fin-de-siecle setting but we find this is in fact just the framing for Maud’s story. She becomes our protagonist and we grow with her as she matures and manages to understand more about her father, Edmund Stearne, the villain of the piece.

Stearne is haunted by his discovery of a painting and also by his scholarship into Alice Pyett, a fictionalised version of Margery Kemp. In his pursuit to understand Alice’s visions, as well as her apparent madness, his own mental health seems to deteriorate. The gap between what both he and Maud believe is happening and their differing beliefs about both religion and folklore all make for a compelling mystery. You find yourself racing through to find out the truth. I can imagine I will need to read it again to capture all the detail.

I enjoyed the level of detail that went into many aspects of their lives: the artwork, local customs, the landscape and the food they eat. All of these make it feel like you are in knowledgeable hands and that the writer is enveloping you in this world she has found.

The characters in the novel, particularly through Maud’s eyes are often comical and I enjoyed meeting the repugnant doctor and lascivious Ivy. The psychological nature of this novel really appealled to me and though many of the characters are often villianous, it also feels they are grounded in truth.

I wasn’t completely sure why we needed to follow the story of Maud into later life. Many parts of the mystery unfolding were exciting enough and I expected the novel to end before it did. I did really enjoy the novel but it was the historical part of the fiction that was the best for me.

I would definitely recommend this novel for fans of gothic fiction and folklore.

If you like this, you will also like:

The strong and sassy female lead in The Mermaid and the Bear. Set amongst the witchcraft hysteria in 17th century Scotland, this is also full of fascinating details of the time and great historical fiction. My review is here

In The Night Wood by Dale Bailey the main character is an academic studying an old manuscript of fairy stories that comes to haunt him. This time the manor house is set in great woods, but just like the fen in Wakenhyrst, they it starts to encroach on the tumbledown manor.

Tripping up

Things go wrong in life sometimes just to remind you to find the humour

Today I walked in the woods. This is a common occurrence, the setting of my work-in-progress is wooded so I get to call it a research trip. Though I haven’t actually worked on it or made progress for quite sometime, getting out in nature was calling to me. So in the interest of research, -or just indulging my passion for the best season, Autumn– I have been out and about amongst the trees again.

I took a shot of a fairy door, the oaks twisted me around so I got a little lost and there were acorn galore to crunch on..so far, so perfect. And then, the puddles starting to seep through my trainers, I decided to make my way back another way. Winding through soggy earth to spot footholds I made it back to the main path. But my way was not clear, the path was flooded but I couldn’t face going back on myself. Instead I performed a spectacular leap across the path in a bid to jump over a pond-like puddle. Rather than fly effortlessly to the other side, I landed in it, cracking my knee and getting water all the way up my leg. All the way. I might as well walked back along the river.

The worst thing about falling over as an adult is you are not supposed to cry but laugh it off. Alone,there was noone to pull me up, noone to hear me gamely laugh along. Actually, that may be the best thing today. Looking around, I had got away with it. Not a soul to see my fall or more importantly how pathetic my leap had been. I managed an awkward limp along until I established my legs were working alright. I got back mainly unseen in very muddy clothes, stripped off at the door and found a dramatic scraped knee but little else to show.

But you have got to laugh. And I did at myself for being a clutz. And also because I think scraped knees are supposed to be something that happens to children and if I hadn’t been taking pleasure in nature for the sake of it, this wouldn’t have happened to me. I remember someone who read a scene about my main character said to me “I think she’s quite witty.” A compliment, for sure. But also because seeing adults doing childlike things there has to be some comedy there.

When I do something ridiculous (which happens more than it should) I think I can “use this” in my work. Not necessarily to write comedy, but because if life isn’t tripping your characters up then what are they even doing in the woods in the first place?

REVIEW: Among the Trees

Hayward Gallery, London

What a strange and perfect first foray into London after six months, an exhibition about trees at the Southbank Centre. In truth I chose an event at the Southbank because it is just one train to get there for me, reducing the time out in a mask. Like testing the water, a place I know so not too far out of my comfort zone. I have written before about my anxieties in the City which always go hand-in-hand with the child-like buzz of excitement I get to be there.

So in town again, amongst not too many people, I am also at an exhibition designed for me, it seems, called Among the Trees. It is a collection of artwork from the last fifty years that captures trees and importantly human’s interactions with them. A time span chosen to reflect the modern environmentalist movement. With this in mind, the centre piece upstairs at the exhibition is a tree of life-size proportions with a leaves of colourful plastic bags. A little on the nose, it is a bright moment in quite a dark exhibition.

My favourite piece another large installation is Forêt Palatine – a cardboard forest. What is great that climbing the stairs I got a view of the whole exhibition space, everyone mercifully spread out, and a glimpse of the forest. The detail on it, made you want to touch but you can’t. A tale for now, indeed.

I loved the Rachel Sussman photographs too, she has travelled the world for a decade finding the oldest things on the planet, like the underground forest in South Africa that has been in the ground for 13,000 years. Nothing like living through a pandemic for an existential crisis. But isn’t this the perfect place to be. The two video installations of trees begging us to just stop and stare. They anchor us and challenge our ideas about longevity.

The final gallery speaks more to human interaction with trees, photos of New York trees with metal fencing growing through them and a British painter, George Shaw displaying rubbish around an old tree. These artworks, rather than venerate the old trees, remark on how we encroach on natural life. These and Sussmann’s work in stark contrast where an ancient tree is in a open landscape, a pillar of ancient in a sparse world.

I think this was a great way back to the museum. The exhibition has a simple message but one that speaks to us if we just take a moment to reflect on the way we have been forced to slow down. Where was the one place we spent our daily exercise during lockdown, why local woods of course. And I’m always happiest among the trees.

Has anyone else braved museums in these new-normal times?