Blog Journal

Autumn

Loss, grief and autumn leaves

Blog Journal: #5

27th October 2020

This year has really tested all of us, but on a personal level this has been one of the most difficult of years, stepping away from a job, then the lockdown happened, going through months of therapy this hit hard. But recently we suffered a loss in the family which has deeply affected everyone. Anyone who knew or met Andy will testify to what a wonderful man with a huge heart he really was. A light has gone out in our life and a huge hole that will never be filled. A huge character that would fill a room with laughter. All is now silent.

Autumn is one of my most favourite times of the year, watching the leaves turn from their late summer greens into those warm autumn reds, russets and golds has been special this year. Maybe it is because many of us have had the time to stop and look at the colours.

Is it my imagination or have the colours this autumn been more spectacular than recent years? Walking through a wood and watching the falling leaves makes you realise how the seasons move so quickly when you wish just for a fleeting moment that time would standstill just for a while longer to appreciate the spectacle. As autumn progresses and the winds increase soon the trees will be stripped bare of all their leaves, but those fallen leaves can have a real purpose in giving a home to wildlife through the winter. Those quiet and still autumn days with not a breath of wind are the best, when you see wood smoke rising straight and true. These are the days I love the most.

With Halloween just days away we have our own spooky reads that we recall but two of my favourite ‘creepy’ novels are Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Classics in their own right. There are Pumpkins on sale so it must be time to make Spicy Pumpkin soup.

A poem for autumn:

Autumn Fires, by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires

See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over

And all the summer flowers,

The red fire blazes,

The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!”

The clocks have now gone back and the days are getting shorter and there is the sound of the first fireworks going off as soon as darkness falls. We spend more time indoors and there is nothing better than curling up with a good book as you listen to the wind howling and the rain against the window. Autumn is a time when publishers release the big books in time for the pre-Christmas push for sales and never before has your local bookshop needed all our support. Please if you can, do pop in or visit them online. Believe me there are some fantastic books out now just waiting to be snapped up.

Which reminds me, I have not run a book prize draw for some months and so I will be running a draw in the very near future and maybe there could be an added treat with the book.

 We are still living through some very difficult and worrying times and none of us know what the months ahead will bring, but we will help each other through these troubled times but until next time, Keep Safe and happy reading.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

Independent Book Publishers

A love letter to indies

Blog Journal: #4

10th September 2020

It is mid-morning and the warm September sunshine is pouring through the window onto my writing desk and it is distracting me. It must be time to pick Blackberries and Cobnuts.

Earlier this week I announced on Twitter that I was going to be running regular feature on my blog about UK independent publishers. I was amazed at the response received, I now have a long list of independent publishers to showcase over the weeks and months to come.

There are so many challenges that indie publishers face and these challenges like many other publishers have been exacerbated due to the Coronavirus pandemic, yet their passion and enthusiasm for publishing knows no boundaries as they find new writing talent and supporting their writers. Only in recent days Little Toller based in Dorset and who published Dara McAnulty’s first book The Diary of a Young Naturalist went on to win the prestigious Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing the youngest ever winner at just 16-years-old and has now also been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize.

But unless we support independent publishers many may not survive, it is a tough business to be in especially in these difficult times. Many challenges are faced on a daily basis from selling books to digital piracy, it is a tough business to be in. I was touched by the messages and emails by many of the small publishers who wanted to get on board and be featured. It has been nearly six years since I started writing my book reviews and interviews and recently celebrated my 500th blog post and looking back to when I first started to that dark November afternoon it was a few of the small indie publishers who got on board and sent me books and encouraged me. I guess this is me giving something back!

During the last six years I have been impressed beyond words at the quality of writing being published by the indies such as Orenda Books, Bluemoose Books, Little Toller and urbane Books just to name four. Whether is it fiction or non-fiction, whether you like reading crime or contemporary fiction or you enjoy reading history there is something out there for every reader.

We are so fortunate in this country in that we have so many passionate people in publishing, no matter what part of the UK, they are rich and diverse and all with their own unique style and brand. Imagine a time if we lost our independent publishing industry?

Starting on my blog from next week I will showcase an indie publisher. This will be a journey across our country, join me as we discover the many authors and their books and those behind the scenes of each of the publishers.

If you are an indie publisher and would like to be showcased, contact me to get your name added to the list.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

 The Joy of Bookshops

Step inside bookshop and a world of literary delights awaits

Blog Journal: #3

4th August 2020

When was the last time you visited a bookshop? That may seem like a strange question to ask but so much of our lives have changed over recent months and since bookshops have reopened many are still very quiet like many high street outlets. But there is something very special about visiting a bookshop.

During these strange days of social distancing and the wearing face coverings there is still a joy to be had in going to visit a bookshop. May be you are looking for that big summer read you have promised yourself or one of the books on the literary prize you are following. September is going to be a big month for book releases as publishers held off book launches during the lockdown. The key date is September 3rd and 250 hardback books will be launched on that day. Booksellers across the country will be busy that week and it will be a critical time for all bookshops including the indie bookshops who have suffered during the lockdown.

Since the high street started to reopen I have visited my local bookshops a number of times and the staff have done an incredible job in making sure that both staff and customers feel safe and making the bookshops welcoming and I have felt more at ease in a bookshop than the local supermarket. May be it is the book hunter gatherer in me that I want to visit bookshops and the bookish delights that await instore and socially distant book chats with the staff.

As I write and review books on my blog and through magazines, I tend to hear the ‘thud’ on the doormat as the postman delivers book packages from publishers. In the years that I have been reviewing books I still feel real gratitude that publishers and authors have trusted me with proofs ahead of publication but saying that you just cannot better walking into your local bookshop.

Then of course there are the bookshops that also have their own instore coffee shops and for me this is heaven, books and coffee and not forgetting the cake of course. Since the lockdown the one joy that I have missed is the visiting author and the interview. Will we ever get back to the pre-Corvid19 days of writers being interviewed in front of a packed audience in a bookshop. We can only hope.

Sales of books during the lockdown really held up as people discovered the joy of books, but the dreaded spectre of Amazon is always never far away and they threaten the existence of our local independent bookshops across the country. Footfall in independent bookshops dropped off, our indie bookshops are part of the local community and it is vital they survive. Many are still taking orders online and will help track down that hard to find book for you.

Then of course there is the antiquarian bookshops, as you walk in there is that aroma of the old books, I have missed some of my favourites on the Charing Cross Road which was of course famous for Marks & Co who sold rare and second hand books at number 84 Charing Cross Road. You know the book by Helene Hanff which also inspired the film with Anthony Hopkins. Sadly, they are long gone but there are still second hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road.

Bookshops are a delight to visit and spending time just browsing the bookshelves, maybe it is just me but I find it really relaxing spending time looking for that book I really want to read that is where you will find me. But wearing a face covering.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

 

COFFEE AND SEASONS

Blog Journal: #2

9th July 2020

Today for the first time in nearly four months I am back in my favourite coffee shop having coffee and cake and making notes for this and future blog journals. Over these past months of lockdown I have really missed coming here. The coffee shop I know very well, it is where I come to quietly read and write and watch life, but this time it is strangely empty and quiet; people are not sure about coming inside. It will take time before confidence returns. So long as the virus is out there, people will remain cautious.

Recently I paid a visit to Hestercombe Gardens which is close to my home, it was one of those very hot days with wall to wall blue skies. It is a favourite place here in Somerset. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity, then Hestercombe is the place to head to. You can follow the walk past the waterfall and lake and sit among the trees and read and write a few lines, then back to walk among the formal gardens. A mix of Georgian landscape gardens by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and the Edwardian formal gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens. There is always something to see here no matter what the season.

During the lockdown we have seen the clocks go forward and we passed the longest day. Dare I say I am beginning to notice these long summer daylight hours just beginning to get shorter if ever so slightly. It has not been helped of course the recent heavy grey skies that look more akin to autumn that the warm days of July. This got me thinking about seasons and how those of us who love nature and of course the gardeners among us that follow them. The autumn days of “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” A season of Blackberries and cobnuts. The light is receding fast each day and we kick our way through the fallen leaves, I have always loved the sound of those dry fallen leaves as we kick our way through, and look for fallen conkers from the Horse Chestnut trees. Back when I was studying horticulture in Cheshire in the late 1970’s they would have conker championships. It was all taken very seriously with stories of ‘doctored’ conkers. We watch squirrels looking for nuts and scurrying away to bury them pretending not to be seen. Can squirrels actually remember during the winter months where they first buried their stash of nuts? The colour of autumn trees provides a last warm glow before they too must fall and the trees fall into a long deep sleep ahead of the onset of cold winter days that are coming. These are the days when we retreat indoors and curl up with a book in front of the fire. But as the seasons change, nature continues to surprise us.

I am not a lover of Winter, those days when the wind is strong and the rain is heavy and cold, the year is growing old and we too begin to slow down and we retreat indoors more. I have lost count of how many umbrellas I have gone through over recent years as storm after storm blows through. I do though love those crystal clear frosty mornings when your breath hangs in the air frozen in a moment of time. A long walk and then finding a pub with a roaring log fire. Winter though always seems as though it never wants to let go and just when you think it is over, it gives one last stand and surprises us. I look forward to the shortest day as then I know the days will begin to lengthen again and now I can start to think of better days to come. Slowly the daylight hours are longer and come March Spring is here, the Chiffchaff’s are singing their name. Birds are looking at nesting sites again. The days are warming up and so is the soil and new life is starting to show. As we move into April and May, this really is my favourite time of the year. Along the Somerset Levels Bitterns with their strange ‘Booming’ call can be heard and Cuckoos are calling, the reed beds are alive with the songs of warblers that have arrived from Africa. These days are as precious as the finest of jewels to treasure. You cannot put a price on these moments. They are there to be enjoyed by everyone and to be protected for future generations. Then of course there is the dawn chorus and this year it seemed like no other spring dawn chorus due to the lockdown, no sounds of traffic so the birdsong seemed to be more enhanced. I would lie in bed and identify the birds I could hear. The pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers has taken up residence in the same hole in the nearby tree again and I can hear them as they ‘tap tap tap’ at the hole making some adjustments to their home. A pair of Starlings have taken up residence in the roof again this year, I will hear the brood as the parents busily fly back and forth with food from dawn to dusk. Then they will fledge and all will be quiet again.

We come full circle as spring becomes summer and the days are long and warm. Days of sitting in beer gardens or reading a book. This summer though is unlike any summer we have seen before. Like many I never know what each is going to bring. We must though dress our days and hold on to whatever we can.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review

 

 

Lockdown

Blog Journal: # 1

23rd June 2020

As we entered lockdown in March my life took a monumental turn, I left my job and the lockdown happened at the same time. It felt like the ground shifted suddenly and dramatically and then we all had to stay at home. Now what I thought?

Since early March I have been having therapy and even this became affected by the pandemic and lockdown, now the therapy course would be via Skype, not the best way to have this. But on we went. So as I write this blog post it is late June and now I have just two more therapy appointments remaining. I can’t tell you just how important this has been. All I will say is never be afraid of asking for help. At some point in all our lives we will all need some help. During this lockdown period many have struggled with having to stay within the confines of their home and missing their family and friends and then of course many do not have gardens. Just imagine how they have had to cope, many single parents with little no support. Mental Health has never been so important in all of our lives. We rush to work and the shops and seeing friends and everything we do in our daily lives and suddenly it came to a very dramatic and sudden stop. That will have a long term effect on many people. Looking after your mental health is so important.

During this period of lockdown I have wanted to write regular blog posts about life during this strange and worrying period in all of our lives. But I ended up spending a lot of time just reading and listening to podcasts or walking along the river and seeing the sun reflecting off the water and watching Spring progress and looking for the first Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and then lastly the Swifts. One by one they arrived. Our summer friends from their wintering home in Africa. Even the early butterflies were out in abundance lots of Orange Tips were on the wing. After a long winter of what seemed non-stop rain the weather seemed to change as we entered this period of staying at home.

Suddenly the sun came out and it warmed up, and it stayed that way. Seeing the sun nearly every day really helped even being at home. Now as I write, the lockdown has been beginning ease, now we meet in bubbles and shops are starting to re-open and then the rain has arrived after weeks of little or no rain at all. There was even talk of hosepipe bans if the dry warm weather continued.

PicsArt_06-22-08.52.51.jpg

Nature and even the weather was helping us get through this pandemic. But then again nature has this unique way of being a cure. I have mentioned this a lot over recent years as being natures cure. Many have been watching birds from windows or while out on their daily exercise walks and even watching Osprey webcams. Like many I have noticed how it has been relatively quiet with so little traffic and the sound of the birdsong has been so uplifting, is it me or has the dawn chorus this Spring seemed more enhanced this year? But now that noise of traffic is beginning to return. I will miss the quiet starts to each day. Even the air seemed cleaner during the last few months. I can only hope that as many start to go back to work and go to the shops that they do not forget nature.

Some mornings there has been a cheeky House Sparrow that sits on my open window he will look in as if he chancing his luck and will fly through the open window and find some tit bit and fly out again. Something so simple yet it has started my day with a smile.

The rain has returned and we have had quite a lot during the last few weeks. While out walking or just in your garden have you noticed the smell after the rain returned? That earthy aroma after a long warm dry spell and there is a word for this it is called Petrichor, and it is said that we appreciate the aroma that comes from the dry earth after rain and that our ancestors relied on the rain for survival. That takes me back to my horticultural studies back in the late 1970’s as we studied soil composition.

I have been busying myself with writing pieces for two local magazines during recent months something I really enjoy selecting books to be reviewed or writing about books in general, books are so important they take us to places fiction or non-fiction. Looking at the numbers of people reading during the lockdown it pleasing to see so many now enjoying books. In the years to come people will ask what did you do during the months of lockdown? I am hoping there are many who have been writing their stories of how they go through the pandemic and are just waiting to be read.

The weeks and months that face us are going to be challenging as we ease out of the lockdown and now more than ever we need to come together and get through this. What we achieve alone is nothing by what we can achieve together and it is together that we can all make a difference, something we need in our world right now.

John Fish

The Last Word Book Review