Happy Christmas from Literasaurus!

A very merry happy book-filled Christmas to all of my readers here at Literasaurus. I hope there was at least one rectangular-shaped parcel under the tree for you.

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Thank you so much for reading this year. I have plans to spend a bit more time here in 2017 and I’m looking forward to an exciting year of books to come.

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An emotional move (and Margaret Forster’s ‘My Life in Houses’)

Sometimes books come into your life at just the right time. I’d had Margaret Forster’s sort of biography My Life in Houses on my ‘to read’ list for some time but had largely forgotten about it. Then I spotted it in the library a few short weeks ago. As the sad news of her death had broken only a little while before, I felt it was a very appropriate time to read some more of Forster’s measured, insightful prose and the topic couldn’t have been more fitting given events in my own life.

We’re moving you see, from the lush rolling hills of the Chilterns up to Worcestershire. As the crow flies (or the M40 corridor stretches, which is so much more prosaic), it’s only about 1 1/2 hours from here to there but the psychological and emotional leap that it represents is making into a very. big. thing. indeed.

Where we live now we have made friends and connections that run pretty deep. It’s hard to have a baby somewhere and not encounter comrades in arms who move swiftly from acquaintances to lifelines. We’ve reached that lovely stage where a jaunt into town is always rewarded by a familiar face and the occasional chat, which is a complete joy to someone who works from home.

Our little house, perched on the edge of the Chilterns AONB, walkable to the stately Thames, adjacent to a thriving market town and at the crossover point of not one but THREE national walking trails has been a very happy location for us indeed. I’m a lifelong member of the ‘location, location, location’ club and would happily sacrifice square footage for something inspiring and green outside my front door any day. My little home has been my idyll and my sanctuary and I’m so sad to be leaving it.

But sometimes there must be different priorities.

Our little girl, for one, who really needs her own bedroom. Our families, who we would like to be closer to and to see more of. Our work/life balance, which was being unduly affected by my husband’s job regularly taking him here and there across the country or keeping him tied to a screen late into the evening. So we made some big decisions. And sometime in the next few months, at the whim of solicitors, estate agents and the ominous “chain”, we will exchange here for there and start a new phase of life. It might look very different from this one but I’m hopeful it will have all the right things at it’s heart.

Forster’s words made a difference to me at a time when I was having quite an emotional wobble. I was getting a little caught up in what I was leaving behind and feeling overwhelmed by the strangeness of the soon-to-be new house – with its undiscovered quirks and unfamiliar sounds – and the idea that it just wasn’t home. But when you look at the place of a house in the context of a lifetime, it gives you quite an interesting perspective.

Here’s Forster writing about the same house, at a distance of 50 years:

“…did we really want this house? Does it speak to us, we asked each other mockingly. No. The answer was a resounding No. On the contrary, it yelled at us to run a mile. Its voice, if it had had one, couldn’t compete with that of Heath Villas … The agreement was signed on 18th February 1963. It felt terrifying. We picked up the keys and went into the house, our house. It still smelled bad, it was still unwelcoming, sulking, not at all pleased to see us. We wandered about all the rooms making lists of what needed to be done. There was no feeling of elation whatsoever.”

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“Yet somehow the house itself, its very fabric, is of importance. An intimate knowledge of its layout, of how all the rooms are arranged and used, stimulates a weird pleasure. I know this house. It has been changed by us not only in the real, practical sense of altering its appearance and internal geography, but by our living within it. Instinct guides me everywhere … I share Leonard Woolf’s conviction that … a house lived in for a long time by the same people reflects something of them and gives them something back.”

Forster’s book encouraged me to remember that our new house is, for the moment, just that. It’s a house. When trawling through Zoopla and attending viewings, a house is all we could hope to find. Only by living in it – as we have lived here – by imprinting ourselves on the rooms, by discovering the creaks and the quirks, putting them right or learning to live with them, experiencing happiness, sadness and all the emotions in between, can we hope to turn it into a home.

So I’m adjusting my expectations for our new house, while looking forward to the life we will live in order to transform it.

And I’d thoroughly recommend Forster’s book for anyone who is interested in the process by which bricks and mortar become the beating hearts of the complex lives that we live.

What is a book blog without any books?

And no, there is no punchline here. It turns out a book blog without any books isn’t really much of anything at all.

This year has been a most unusual one all things told. For starters, I finished reading a book the other day and it was the first one I’d read since March. It was only the 19th book I’d read this year and my reading muscle was so withered that I could only cope with a book I’d already read twice before (Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black – if you haven’t, do).

While I wasn’t reading, I was growing a tiny human…

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But my version of pregnancy was most definitely not what you see in films. There were no floaty dresses and I didn’t glow. No laughing over funny cravings, while glowing, and then marvelling at how lustrous and thick my hair had become. From about week 5, it was nausea and vomiting, relentless and all consuming. The vomiting eased up from about week 26 but the nausea never went away. And that was it. Just the thought of reading a book was enough to make me dry heave. It would have been like being forced to read in the back of a car while experiencing horrendous travel sickness. There’s a lovely tall, double-stacked bookshelf of my ‘to read’s in the living room and I couldn’t even bear to look at it after a while.

It all sounds terribly sad but I actually didn’t miss the books. I missed the days of ‘not feeling sick’, of course, but that was about all really. But for someone whose life was so dominated by books it was a bit like being someone else for a time.

Then when my tiny person got to be about 3 weeks old (she’s nearly 6 weeks now), I was sitting feeding one day when I picked up Beyond Black and thought I’d experiment with a paragraph or two. And it was like holding a match to a pile of dry kindling. Whooomph! Before I knew it, I was utterly consumed by my desire to read ALL THE WORDS as quickly as possible. So much so, that while temporarily stranded without a book the other day I read and reread the instruction leaflet for our new Snufflebabe nasal aspirator a few times over.

Of course, having a tiny person makes reading ALL the words hard to achieve and I do still need to carve out plenty of time in my day for staring at her like a love-sick puppy. But at the very least, there are now a few books. And that means there might just be a book blog.

Storytelling and a plug for the Grimm Tales at the Bargehouse

In 2013, Phillip Pullman brought out his Grimm Tales for Young and Old in which he took 50 of his favourite Grimm tales and presented them in his own voice. And it was also Pullman who said:

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

I read Pullman’s collection in April 2014 on a ferry to Belfast and they were every bit as magical as I’d hoped. Fairy and folk tales have long been one of my favourite escapist reads.

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So I’m plugging a recent theatre experience that was so amazing that I want to shout about it on every forum out there. An adaptation of six of Pullman’s tales is currently on in London at the Bargehouse on the Oxo Tower Wharf. And I was fortunate enough to see it on 15th Feb.

The website bills it as an immersive fairytale and it definitely is. From the minute you arrive, every little detail has been crafted to help you get as lost as possible in the experience, whether you’re in the bar, the toilets or even the corridors and stairwells. And the Bargehouse is the most perfect venue as you follow the action through a series of dressed rooms. There’s little sense of ‘stage’ and ‘audience’ here – you move in and out of the set with the actors and, perched on a succession of wooden benches, listen in as the tales are told.

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And at the very end, there’s an additional surprise which I won’t reveal here.

My face ached from smiling.

While I thought I was seeing the last performance, I just found out that they’ve extended the run until 11th April. So if you’re within reach of London and a fan of fairytales, I couldn’t recommend this more.