All travellers need to arm themselves with good reading for the journeys ahead. This post documents the books I took and the reading material that was suggested by people I met – either planned or completely unexpected moments. While in London I was based in Bloomsbury and enjoyed the excellent transport links within easy walking distance, as well as a number of parks and relaxing cafes and bars.
My three week study tour in England, as part of my research into Teachers and Student Writing Groups, necessitated
- two long haul flights from Sydney – London – Sydney, with stops in Bangkok and Dubai
- more than eleven local train trips between urban suburbs and rural schools
- multiple taxi rides
- three long train trips between large regional cities and
- one long bus trip from Devon to Heathrow airport.
Purchased in New York at the gift shop of the New Public Library inside the Stephen A Schwarzman building, The Bookman’s Tale was my inflight reading. I was enthralled by the protagonist’s quest: Peter Byerly moves to England to reignite his passion for antiquarian books and finds himself in a murder mystery. Fortuitously, Lovett provided interesting insights into the publishing industry, as well as references to Shakespeare folios – which I later viewed in an exhibition at the British Library – and mentioned the Shakespearean window at Southwark Cathedral that I managed to visit and photograph on my way to Story Restaurant.
Out and about on my first full day in London took me to Liverpool St Station to collect pre-booked train tickets and then walking towards Old Spitalfields market and Brick Lane to photograph street art – which were later used in my zines. That afternoon was spent at the British Library viewing the Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition and a smaller foyer exhibit titled Punk 1976 – 78. I was drawn to the Situationist text in the ‘pop up’ punk gift shop as it was mentioned by Gail Jones in a discussion on her novel Five Bells, and recalled some previous youthful postering of my own in the early 80s. Leaving the 20th Century also became visual inspiration for centre pages of my Street Scape Odyssey zine.
While travelling to Canterbury on June 14, I found an abandoned copy of the ‘free’ Metro newspaper. Glancing through the advertising and intermittent stories, I found the ‘Rush Hour Crush’ column mildly amusing. Reflecting on the many occasions I have refused a copy of the ‘free’ newspaper on train trips in the Sydney metropolitan area, I wasn’t sure if this was a regular item in that publication, though the voyeuristic nature of these printed texts makes it likely. Success rate? Who cares.
Books of a very different aesthetic were on display at The Beaney – House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury. Under the exhibition title of ‘I make books so I won’t die – the legacy of Martha Hall’ an astonishing array of books filled a room and drew my eye from cabinet to cabinet. Some were easily read, others less legible, all demanded touching but were sadly protected by glass.
Martha Hall, according to the information displayed, was born in 1949 and was an American maker of artists books. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and found the physical act of making books allowed her to express emotions that inadequate words did not allow. Hall’s books are
of diverse materials, sizes and constructions … [to] convey mood through colour and consist of poems, quotations by health practitioners, drawings, photographs, original medical appointment cards and test results.
Her memorial service was held in 2004 and it was Hall’s wish that her work not be sold to private collectors, but be made available for the public, cancer patients and medical professionals.
Noticing the sun shining, I ventured outside and spent time in Greyfriars Garden where I whistled with birdsong and took in the beauty of Greyfriars Chapel. Returning to The Beaney for my writing workshop, I giggled through Mindfulness: who doesn’t enjoy that joyous link with childhood memory and adult sarcasm?
The next day found me book shopping at Piccadilly and a morning coffee at Assouline, the French publishing house shopfront. Though these books were not exactly in my price range, I was given a copy of their 2015 catalogue – a hardback of luscious images and glossiness that was sadly left in a hotel room to make way for more important books – and a desk copy of a displayed publication on Scott’s tragic expedition south. The black and white images are reminiscent of Hurley’s work, revealed in Nasht’s Frank Hurley: the man who made history documentary.
From Piccadilly I foolishly took a taxi ride for Southwark during a very congested lunchtime. Not only where there too many roadworks and inconsiderate delivery vans parking across whole intersections, it was also the day of the boat blockade by the Leave campaign contested by Remain vessels. At least the driver was quite amusing and took a few pounds of the ridiculous fare.
However, any negativity was quickly surpassed by the astonishingly delicious lunch shared with Simon Wrigley at Story restaurant. As is the custom, I exchanged a book with my personal message with another from the Story library.
It was an easy choice to gift Herrick’s The Simple Gift due to the glorious imagery and symbolism of food throughout this verse novel. My only plan in choosing an exchange book was the spine colour: green. Texts on the library shelves are arranged in colour, so a seemingly simple task, yet this was the most interesting available book with any green on its spine.
Having read other books by Harris, including a lovely holiday at Missabotti reading Chocolat, I thought this was the safest bet – it was impossible to fathom why some of the other books had been gifted …
My reading companion on several train trips was David Whitehouse’s The Mobile Library, particularly the longish ride to Norwich, then onto Great Yarmouth. Mostly comfortable and on time, the trains in England are a useful transport mode. It made my study tour feel a little more like a holiday though space for large luggage items was at a premium in most carriages.
Winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, I purchased this book at the British Library and enjoyed the compelling narrative. Although the protagonist is aged 12, this is an adult story full of black humour. We learn the value of reading, in often unexpected ways, and how library stock was gifted:
Everywhere they went they left a book. Sometimes they buried them, or hid them beneath a rock. Sometimes they left them on show so that they could easily be found. One was left in the centre of a hilltop fort. Rosa left another in the cave walk of a gorge. Bobby gave an illustrated book about birds to a crying girl at a market, and a copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (Vals’ idea – he hadn’t read it) to a grumpy-faced boy whose father wouldn’t let him have a plastic ray gun from a toyshop.
“It’s about patricide,” Val said. “He might get a kick out of it in a few year’s time.”
By Monday, June 20, I was at the University of East Anglia for a day of creative writing as part of the Festival of Literature for Young People. While waiting for confirmation of where the workshops were being held, I picked up a copy of Ziggurat, the university magazine. The 2015/16 issue contained an article by Tim Clare revealing that ‘author’ is an aspirational career for 60% of respondents in a recent YouGov poll, and explains that the ‘UK’s first MA in Creative Writing was established at UEA in 1970’ (p 24).
Clare, himself a graduate of the course, questions the increasingly fashionable negative attitude towards studying creative writing – particularly from those in the literary world. This is then the premise for the rest of the article, achieved by interviewing other graduates – Emma Healey, Tash Aw and teacher Henry Sutton – in attempting to understand whether writing can be taught. Quite on point, given my research interests.
As part of the Creative Writing Day for Teachers, taught by UEA alumna, novelist and short story writer Lynne Bryan, I received The Art of Writing Fiction by Andrew Cowan, part of the teaching team at UEA. Lynne shared some of the activities during the course of the day, and admitted that some had been adapted, giving real examples of how teachers constantly alter ideas to suit their class, cohort or audience. Clearly a book for dipping into – I prefer the random page opening style of finding an activity, and this book has presented me with winning options every time I’ve looked.
I spoke with Lynne at lunch and learned that one of her lecturers when she studied creative writing at UEA was Angela Carter, and when I mentioned that I had bought her fairy tales book, she asked about the Bloody Chamber. Sadly, I am yet to read this, yet explained I had studied Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman as an undergraduate. Another unexpected, yet telling connection of feminine perspectives.
To close this part of my traveller’s reading journal, I share this newspaper page from my breakfast reading. In all honesty, I haven’t read many newspapers for many months, and found it a novelty to look at the British tabloid version which seems to follow the formula quite nicely. The weather and grey cloudy skies did not permit a personal viewing of the ‘strawberry moon’, but I did enjoy the short article that acknowledged the naming of such a moon is credited to the Algonquin Indians who believed it signalled the beginning of their strawberry picking season.
The larger article on page 3 revealed how DNA has proven an illegitimate heir to a baronetcy has replaced his second cousin. But before anyone starts thinking about family gossip and opportunities, this case was only allowed due to the Queen’s direct request to a panel of seven Supreme Court judges. It seems it will always be a case of who you know.