In my longing for England, I am turning to books about the countryside and towns that have literary connections. Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes was one of my best finds for some time. I was enraptured! The first chapter followed Enid Blyton and was laugh-out-loud funny. The book covered some familiar friends – Dr Johnson and Boswell, Dickens and Wilkie Collins make wonderful travelling companions, but I also learned a great deal about authors I didn’t know so well – the Irish pair Somerville and Ross, Gerald of Wales, Beryl Bainbridge and J.B. Priestley. The last chapter created an imaginary dinner party for all the writers featured and Fiennes has great fun trying to work out who should sit next to whom and which author would try to dominate the conversation. I loved every page of this blissful, thought-provoking and truly delightful book.
I also recently very much enjoyed reading Personal Islands by Michael Bartlett. This is a collection of short stories, all linked in intriguing ways to islands (mostly) around Britain, which explore the themes of loneliness and isolation. Michael Bartlett, who worked as a TV and radio scriptwriter, gives moving and intimate glimpses into human lives – a woman grieving for an adopted son killed in the Falklands, a boy on holiday on the Isle of Wight, a boy who runs away from school and hides out on a traffic island, or the tragedy of being marooned on the ‘island’ of dementia. The stories are compelling and touching and all too relevant in our Covid world. The volume was published last year and I highly recommend it.
I also plan to read Michael Bartlett’s My Village in the Valley, a light-hearted look at English country life.