1 April 2022 Susannah

O, to be in England, now that April’s there …

Footnotes and Islands

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.

I have missed my visits to England so much and I can’t wait to go there again. Do you have any favourite books about England? Tell me by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44591254-footnotes, and Personal Islands by Michael Bartlett, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59432232-personal-islands

Comments (4)

  1. Margaret Debenham

    It seems my initial comment, which failed to appear for more than 24 hours and I thought had failed to post, has now finally appeared – hence the (sort of) duplication as I tried to remember what I said the first time for my second post! So no need to read the first post!!

  2. Margaret Debenham

    I love books about the English countryside! I love walking through the English countryside (especially in the Cotswolds and East Anglia)! English country landscapes are exceptionally beautiful, at least where the hedgerows or drystone walls are still in place and the fields have not (yet!) been turned into prairies to accommodate gigantic combine harvesters. I still cherish my childhood books by Rev George Bramwell Evans, aka “Romany of the BBC” (probably where my English countryside love affair started), about his rambles in his gypsy caravan with Raq the dog, and his beautiful gentle observations of the natural world. So I have quite a few English countryside books, and more and more seem to be appearing, perhaps prompted by the fear we are about to destroy (have already destroyed!) so much of the beauty of this world. I haven’t come across Footnotes or Personal Islands, but I shall certainly chase them up. Among the countryside books I have read recently are Spirit of Place: Artists, Writers & the British Landscape by Susan Owens, The Barn by Sally Coulthard (based around her farm in the Howardian Hills of North Yorkshire, but digressing into random aspects of the history of the area (and beyond) and its inhabitants, Wanderers: A History of Women Walking (not entirely – but mostly – in Britain, and not entirely countryside – Virginia Woolf walks Bloomsbury, Anais Nin walks Paris, but I’m not complaining about that), Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape (Scotland – Galloway; a delightful read, and very informative if you are interested in Galloway cattle, which I didn’t know I was until I read the book – they sound quite lovely), and Waiting for the Albino Dunnock: How Birds Can Change Your Life by Rosamond Richardson (sounds very worthy, but, as the jacket notes say, it covers “elements of science, ornithology, mythology and philosophy, taxonomy and history, literature and folklore” as well as the link between nature and the human psyche. A complete education system in one book! And it combines two of my favourite things, birds and East Anglia, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do have more such books, but that is probably quite enough for now.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh help, you’ve just added so many books to my list. Now I just need more reading time. They all sound like lovely suggestions, especially the Scottish one about the cattle. I think belted Galloways are so adorable, so I have to read that one!
      Many thanks for all the great recommendations. You would love Footnotes!!! I thought it was fabulous.

  3. Margaret Debenham

    I, too, love books about the English landscape (I think the English countryside must be the most beautiful rural landscape anywhere – at least where the fields haven’t yet been turned into vast un-hedged or un-walled prairies), and always buy any I see in a bookshop, although I haven’t come across Footnotes or Personal Islands yet; must look out for them. A few I’ve enjoyed during lockdown are Spirit of Place: Artists, Writers and the British Landscape by Susan Owens, Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews (not entirely British and not entirely countryside, but still…), The Barn by Sally Coulthard about her farm in the Howardian Hills of North Yorkshire with many digressions into the history of the immediate area and more widely, Waiting for the Albino Dunnock: How Birds Can Change Your Life by Rosamond Richardson, which sounds a bit worthy but it covers two of my favourite things, East Anglia and birds, so I thoroughly enjoyed it, and (cheating – it’s about Galloway in Scotland) Native – Life in a Vanishing Landscape by Patrick Laurie (it also has a lot to say about Galloway cattle, so between Patrick Laurie and James Rebanks with his Hardwick sheep, I’m becoming, for a suburbanite, quite expert in animal husbandry!).

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