Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow day and tomorrow...

Snow falling like soft white feathers outside, and firelight within. Tomorrow I'm venturing out into the icy city to see a new exhibition (Aware: Art Fashion Identity) at the Royal Academy, and very much looking forward to meeting one of the artists, Susie MacMurray. The picture above is from 'Echo', her beautiful installation at York St Mary's, made out of hairnets and rosin-coated violin bow hair; her work at the RA is 'Widow', an extraordinary gown of dressmaker pins. You can listen to the artist talking about it here... Wonderfully inspiring, hence my voyage across the internet this afternoon, following the traces of Susie's work, from the red velvet and mussel shells at Pallant House in Chichester, to a web of gold embroidery thread in Sir Nathaniel Curzon's Derbyshire mansion...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Feathers, again...

Regular readers will know about my ongoing preoccupation with feathers; here's my latest offering (in the Sunday Telegraph).
In between thinking about these, I've been up and down to East Lothian for the day, to the lovely Lennoxlove festival. It's a beautiful place, and I was lucky enough to be talking in the Great Hall to a delightful audience, who made the long journey feel well worthwhile. Pictures to follow...
Meanwhile, I've been eating butternut squash and sweet potatoes -- the perfect winter food -- and cooking a vat of lentil, ham and spinach soup.
This morning I went to sign copies of Coco at Hatchards in Piccadilly, and Heywood Hill in Curzon Street; both of them bookshops that make me glad to be a writer, and a reader. I bought the OUP edition of Virginia Woolf's Orlando for myself (good notes, introduction, etc); and some secret Christmas presents for others.
Now on my Christmas list:
Romantic Moderns by Alexandra Harris. (Thames & Hudson).
Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook. (Assouline).

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Lennoxlove and spring bulbs in November

I'm getting ready for an early start tomorrow morning -- a day trip to East Lothian to speak at the Lennoxlove literary festival. (Just been reading about the history of Lennoxlove House , which looks intriguing...).
Meanwhile, I've been following the good advice offered by others on this blog, and spent some time outside this afternoon, sweeping the leaves out of my garden, and planting bulbs (muscari and chionodoxa; hopefully both squirrel-proof). The fresh air and the prospect of spring flowers are definitely cheering... so thank you, everyone, for nudging me outdoors today.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My heart leaps up...

"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety."

William Wordsworth wrote his poem in 1802, and there is something reassuring, as well as inspiring, to know that over two centuries afterwards, there are still shimmering rainbows to be seen in winter skies. This one emerged out of the rain as I visited Aberdeenshire last weekend...
Blue skies over London this morning, then dense fog descended, but I am still thinking of the Scottish rainbow...
This winter, I'm hoping to embrace the changing of the season, rather than mourning the lengthening of the darkness (I confess, my melancholy tendencies tend to surface in January, so trying to find remedies in advance). Does anyone have good advice to offer here or stories to share as daylight dwindles?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Bishop Kirk Reunion...

Alright, so I didn't win the Tesco Biography of the Year (Stephen Fry triumphed) but I did get to meet Ben Macintyre, the brilliant author of Operation Mincemeat, who was also nominated in another category for the Galaxy book awards. The bad news is that Ben didn't win, either, but the good news is that we had a chance to catch up on our shared past at Bishop Kirk school in Oxford, where Philip Pullman used to teach English. The school is now gone, and its grass playing fields where we played rounders built over with an estate of smart new houses, but talking to Ben made me happily nostalgic... I remember eating the beech nuts that fell to the ground in autumn, and making a Roman villa out of a shoebox for our teacher, Mr Hood, and singing 'Hearts of Oak' in school assembly... oddly, it never ever seemed to rain there, once upon a time in Summertown...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The day before tomorrow...

... am feeling nervous. Not that one is supposed to confess to anxiety the evening before an awards ceremony (being shortlisted is prize enough, etc); so am trying very hard to cultivate serenity... Anyone have any advice on Zen and the art of book prizes? Have I jinxed myself by confession (and so on and so forth)?

Monday, 8 November 2010

From cygnet to swan in New York...

I've just been reading a new book about Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman. Beautiful pictures, an intermittently spooky riches to riches fairytale as if written by the Brothers Grimm, and her eerie artworks that Vanderbilt calls 'dream boxes' (see above and within).

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lutyens & Rubinstein

Thanks to everyone who braved the tube strike on Wednesday evening and made it to the Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop in Kensington Park Road. There were beautiful Coco cupcakes made by the Love Bakery (the perfect going-home present) and I fell for an adorable dachshund named Billie. In her honour, I made special mention of the Duke of Westminster's dachshunds that accompanied him on his travels with Coco Chanel: from Eaton to the Highlands, and even aboard the Flying Cloud.
Meanwhile, fireworks are damp squibs in the rainclouds above Crouch End. But I am relishing a night in...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Tea at the Four Seasons

A good time was had by all (I hope) at the Four Seasons Literary Tea in Hampshire on Monday afternoon. The sky was bright blue, the autumn leaves blazing -- a brave start to the first day of British Winter Time -- but inside, an array of pale pink roses, poppy-red, and Chanel black and white.
I met lots of fashion aficionados and enthusiasts, admired some wonderful Chanel bags (vintage and contemporary), and shared my passion for La Grande Mademoiselle. As with other events I've spoken at recently (Dublin, Chester, Edinburgh, Manchester, et al), I've been touched to see so many mothers and daughters that have come together, as well as sisters and best friends. The spirit of Chanel seems to be inspiring a sense of female solidarity, as well as bringing out a host of book lovers. Many, many thanks to everyone, including the lovely ladies from Waterstones in Farnham, and to the team at the Four Seasons, who conjured up delicious cream teas and perfect couture patisseries, as well as those wondrous roses...