Just returned from a great trip half way around the world and back. We started in San Francisco where we attended my niece’s wedding in a lovely redwood forest.
Then we flew to Auckland where we spent a week walking on the Coromandel Peninsula with my brother. This was joyous on many counts: the scenery is just glorious – quite one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the weather was perfect – warm and sunny but not too hot to walk, and we spent the time with my brother who lives in Turkey and who therefore we don’t see often.
From Auckland to Melbourne where we were met by No 1 son and our lovely 2 year old granddaughter. We then spent 3 weeks being hands on grandparents to her and her very newly hatched baby brother and we loved it! Grampy did lots of DIY and we both read lots of stories, even changing nappies was ok. Leaving them there and coming home to the dark foggy Uk was a great wrench.
We saw the World Dinghy championships in St Kilda and I saw penguins for the first time ever. That has been an ambition of mine for a long time.
Last night I went to the London Review Bookshop to see one of the literary greats. Edna O’Brien is surely one of the best writers around, certainly one of my favourites. Her new book, The Little Red Chairs, which those of you who follow these things will know I discussed with Nick Coffer on the last radio broadcast, is an amazing novel. Inspired by the moving pictures of the 11,541 (643 were child size) red chairs set out in the High Street of Sarajevo in 2012 to commemorate the deaths of the people in the siege of Sarajevo 20 years previously, the book tells the story of a war criminal who arrives in a small Irish coastal town. His effect on the people is both powerful and tragic. The book follows the fortunes of one of those villagers as she moves to London and also visits the War Crimes tribunal in the Hague.
It is very typical of Edna O’Brien that the prose is economical, lean and exactly tells the story, without ambiguity or fuss.
Edna was interviewed by Andrew O’Hagan, himself a Booker shortlisted writer (for his novel Our Fathers), and he did a great job, asking just the questions I wanted to ask. I loved the novel and I feel very privileged to have been at the event.
Tonight at Dr Challoners High School Philippa Gregory will be talking about her new book, The Taming of the Queen, a novel about Katherine Parr. I can’t wait. If you want to come along you can get a ticket by clicking here
I have recently returned from a most amazing trekking trip in Peru. It is a fascinating country with a very long history, friendly people and stunning scenery. We trekked is a gentle way in several different areas, particularly the Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Blanca. I was very anxious about altitude sickness before we left but we ascended slowly so all was well.
Yumbilla waterfall, the fifth highest in the world at 895.5 metres on the left, a wonderful hike through virgin rainforest from the village of Cuispes. On the right, mountains in the Cordillera Blanca.
Yesterday I went for the last time to the BBC Three Counties Radio Studios in Luton. Next time I go they will have moved to Dunstable. Handily that is a bit nearer home for me which is good. The pictures look great so it will be fun to be in the new studios.
Now to get reading for the next batch of recommended books on July 6th. Summer reading!
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton published Jan 1st 2015 by Pan Macmillan £7.99 paperback
This is a kind of 17th century thriller. A bit spooky as well
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey published Jan 1st 2015 by Penguin £7.99 paperback
Maud is 81 and has dementia. This is her story. Funny, poignant, sad and very readable.
Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan published July 2014 by Vintage £16.99 hardback
This is going into my top ten books of all time at number 3. It is the winner of the Man Booker prize and is just stunningly unputdownable. The hero, Dorrigo Evans, is a doctor from Tasmania, who finds himself held by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp. The inmates of the camp are expected to build the Thailand Burma Railway.
The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen published by Random House Children’s January 2015 £6.99
This has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and for the Blue Peter fiction award which will be announced on World Book Day on Thursday. It is a gripping read aimed at 9 – 13 year olds
Sophia by Anita Anand published by Bloomsbury January 15 2015 £20 hardback
This is a biography of Sophia Duleep Singh, granddaughter of Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab and god daughter of Queen Victoria.
H is for hawk by Helen MacDonald published by Vintage February 2015 £8.99 paperback
Wonderful autobiography of Helen Macdonald training a goshawk called Mabel and learning to deal with her grief at her father’s death. Woven in is a biography of T.H.White, one time teacher and author of The Once and Future King
I have just added the books Nick Coffer and i discussed on BBC Three Counties on Monday December 1st. If you are stuck for a Christmas present you could do worse than have a look!