Author of the Month: Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory was chosen to tie in with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.  We wanted an accessible author who has a royal theme in their work, as well as having a good backlist.

Philippa Gregory is a world renowned historical novelist and a recognised authority on women’s history.  She has written 27 novels – her 27th, Dawnlands, will be published in November 2022 as well as 3 books for children.

As well as being a full time writer, she enjoys riding, walking, skiing and gardening.  She  also runs a charity which builds wells in The Gambia and teaches children how to cultivate their own food. The well digging side of the charity stopped during the pandemic to focus on a public health initiative.

We were lucky enough to chat to Philippa Gregory on one of our previous podcast episodes. You can listen to that here: https://pod.fo/e/e0f93.

“If it means something, take it to heart. If it means nothing, it’s nothing. Let it go.”
― Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl

Author of the Month: Len Deighton

Leonard Cyril Deighton was born in London in 1929. His publications have included cookery books, history and military history, but he is best known for his spy novels. 

In 1940, at the age of eleven, Deighton witnessed the arrest of Anna Wolkoff, who was detained as a Nazi spy and charged with stealing correspondence between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Deighton later said that observing her arrest was “a major factor in my decision to write a spy story at my first attempt at fiction”

It was on an extended holiday in 1962 that Deighton wrote his first novel – The Ipcress File (short for the “Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress”), which was a critical and commercial success.  

Several of Deighton’s novels have been adapted for the screen. In March 2022, ITV broadcast a new six-part adaption of The Ipcress File, starring Joe Cole as Harry Palmer. The new series had a big budget and big name stars, and plenty of overseas locations to capture the eye of the viewer. 

During 2021, Penguin Books reprinted all of Len Deighton’s fiction backlist, creating a range of fresh and vibrant cover designs that hark back to the 1960s, when designer Ray Hawkey did the covers for their first Deighton editions. 

‘The hallmarks of a Deighton novel are an intricate plot, an easy grasp of detail and a total mastery of storytelling technique.’ – Sunday Times

Behind the bookshelves with an Area Manager

We caught up with one of Hampshire Libraries Area Managers, Liz, to find out how she came to work with the libraries, her time as a children’s librarian, and her top picks for younger readers.

How did you come to work at Hampshire Libraries?

I’ve always worked in libraries. When I left school, I started working in the libraries in Hull. I went off to university but came back to working in libraries in North Yorkshire after. I came to Hampshire as a Children’s Librarian in Fareham. That was a brilliant thing to do because it’s all about getting the right book to the right child at the right time. It really shaped my way of working. I’m an Area Manager now, so I manage an operational team, keeping the libraries open and developing services, but I think I’ll always be a Children’s Librarian by trade. As a Children’s Librarian, you have to be quite comfortable in front of large groups of children, telling stories in quite extravagant ways. I got to meet so many children’s authors and illustrators as well through book launches and the Wessex Book Fair.

I was so enveloped by children’s books at that time. Parents would come to me with questions like “my child doesn’t really like reading, do you know a book that can help?” or “my child has to go to the dentist soon, are there any books that will help them feel less scared?” and I needed to know those things. Books enable children to articulate what they’re feeling because children don’t always have the language to tell you what they’re thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody through a book than it is to have a direct conversation, especially when children are learning to communicate. Reading develops so much more than literacy and language, it’s empathy and understanding too. Even as an adult reading them, you learn things about the world you didn’t know before. Whether it’s about somebody else’s culture or about being a refugee, they just help you to understand somebody else’s life.

When I was younger, I really struggled to learn to read. I can still remember how humiliating it was because I just couldn’t do it, it was hard. So, I wasn’t really much of a reader when I was a kid, but I think that’s why I really believe it is about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.

Where do you like to read?

I read in bed a lot, but I really enjoy reading on the train. I have family in Yorkshire and if I go to visit them, I like to go by train so I can read and relax. I’ll always take a couple of books with me because I think it’s important to give yourself permission to stop reading something you aren’t enjoying. When we’re younger we have to finish the books that we’re told to read because they’re on the curriculum, and that can make reading feel like a lot of work. But one of the brilliant things about being an adult is that you don’t have to do that.

How do you read?

I usually read in small bits and get through books that way. I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks, I do own an e-reader which is great for reading at night, but I do prefer a physical book.

What do you read?

I’m reading a book called Coasting by Elise Downing and another book about triathlon training. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction lately, but I really like novels and depending on my mood I do love a bit of Chick Lit. I enjoy books with central female characters and books about women’s lives. One novel that really stayed with me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. I really love the writing of Tracy Chevalier, I think they’re just great stories and her novels can give such an insight into the daily hardships of women from the past. Another author who does that really well is Kate Atkinson, particularly in her book Life After Life. The book is set during the second world war and really impressed on me how difficult it is for us to understand what it must have been like to live through that.

In terms of non-fiction, I really enjoy reading books about endurance sports. Over Christmas, I read Relentless by Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic triathlete. It’s a really interesting book because he talks to lots of different sports champions about their mindset and training, from footballers to darts players. I do triathlons and love cycling so it’s definitely a topic that interests me.

I must admit though, in times of stress where you just need a story to wash over you, a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine is Alan Titchmarsh’s novels. They’re so easy to read and there’s always a happy ending. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about something they’re just a proper escape.

What books would you recommend for children and teenagers?

A lot of my favourite picture books aren’t very new, but I think the sign of a good picture book is that it can really stand the test of time. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen would be my first pick. It’s a very simple story about a magical balloon but the book has fold-out bits and some lovely language. I was reading it to a group of children and afterwards, I heard a boy say “I know what indestructible means” because it was used in the book. He must have only been about three or four years old, but he understood that word and how to use it because it was in the book. To me, that just perfectly illustrated how important picture books really are. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy, it’s a great story about poor Mr Bear trying to find somewhere to sleep but wherever he goes there’s a different noise that keeps him up. Another wonderful book is Winnie the Witch by Valérie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul. We had a visit from Korky Paul a few years ago and he saw a Winnie doll that I had made myself. He said he liked it so I made me one which lead to him signing a book for me addressed to “The Witch Maker”. But the book I would always give to a new baby is Dear Zoo which is such a classic.

Another genre I do love is teen fiction or YA. I’ve read so much teen fiction it’s difficult to pick favourites but one I really enjoyed is Beauty by Robin McKinley. It’s a wonderful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Quite different but equally brilliant is Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful which is just such a beautiful book. I had a flick through the last couple of pages earlier and it still brings me to tears. When it didn’t win the Carnegie medal for children’s fiction, I was just so disappointed.

If you like books that are a bit more whimsical, I would really recommend Skellig by David Almond. It’s about a couple of kids who find a man in their shed, but the man has wings so it’s as if he’s an angel or something like that. All of David Almond’s books are set in the Northeast of England so they’re all grounded in the Newcastle and Northumberland area. He has this quite beautiful way of writing that builds the relationships between the characters really strongly. Some of them can be quite gritty so the books have quite a realistic aspect to them as well.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a must read as well. It was recently turned into a TV series. It shows a different perspective of racism, it’s one of those books that really open your eyes, especially if you’re white.

What books have you loved that might get overlooked?

I really like books about people and their lives. A book I enjoyed reading recently was 12 Birds to Save Your Life by Charlie Corbett. After his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently died, he found a way through his grief by reconnecting with the world through nature and bird songs. It’s more about his experience than about nature so even if birds aren’t your usual subject, you can still really connect with the story. A similar book is the amazing true story by Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. It’s about how she and her husband became homeless just as her husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With nowhere else to go, they decided to walk the South West Coast Path. She talks about how it just gave them purpose and time to process what was happening. I actually bought it for my niece last Christmas because, it’s such a wonderful book, I just thought she had to read it.

LGBT+ History Month – February 2022

Hello there! My name is Jordan. I’m currently a Library Assistant at Winchester Library and today I’m guest-writing for the blog to talk to you about LGBT+ History Month.

Throughout February, Hampshire Libraries will be celebrating and spotlighting LGBT+ history and culture, as well as recognising the achievements of LGBT+ pioneers from all fields of life. LGBT+ History Month started in 2005, and is supported by a network of various charities, organisations, and schools.

This year’s theme is ‘Politics in Art’, with the aim of highlighting the importance of art and artistic expression in furthering LGBT+ rights and challenging injustice. It is easy to forget that only a few decades ago, creating art that was outside the norms of society would have been heavily censored and criticised, and continues to be this way for many parts of the world today.

Despite this, there were many bold pioneers. Artists such as Keith Haring generated awareness and activism about AIDs in the 1980s. Poets such as Audre Lorde spoke of gender and sexuality in an era where such topics were not widely accepted.

Art in all its forms has the power to inspire, educate and provoke. There is a rich history of defiantly challenging oppressive attitudes with the power of the written word. However, I feel art also fosters a sense of community. Art draws us together and provides space to see society – and ourselves – reflected in it. Underground zines allowed oppressed LGBT+ communities to communicate and be themselves during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Even today, book clubs allow all types of people to relax and feel safe while talking about their favourite novels.

On a personal level though, art helps us make sense of ourselves and where we fit in. It’s so important for art to reflect everyone in society, and while it hasn’t always been the case, in recent years I’m really proud that a wider range of diverse books are being printed and finding their way into libraries.

For a young teenager exploring their sexuality and finding the strength to come out, to the older person wishing to read about the history they lived through, Hampshire Libraries has a range of books available to read and reserve, either in branch or on BorrowBox, our eBook and eAudiobook service.

We have produced a book list, featuring a range of talent whatever you’re looking for. Below are a couple of my personal selections, but I encourage you to look through the whole list and find the book for you!

To reserve the books below from our catalogue, just click on the book image.

My recommended books are:

  • Pride: The Story of the LGBTQ Equality Movement by Matthew Todd
    Pride documents the milestones in the fight for LGBTQ equality, from the victories of early activists to the passing of legislation barring discrimination, and the gradual acceptance of the LGBTQ community in politics, sport, culture and the media. Rare images and documents cover the seminal moments, events and breakthroughs of the movement, while personal testimonies share the voices of key figures on a broad range of topics. Pride is a unique celebration of LGBTQ culture, an account of the ongoing challenges facing the community, and a testament to the equal rights that have been won for many as a result of the passion and determination of this mass movement.
  • Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ + Culture by Amelia Abraham
    Combining intrepid journalism with her own personal experience, in Queer Intentions, Amelia Abraham searches for the answers to these urgent challenges, as well as the broader question of what it means to be queer right now. With curiosity, good humour and disarming openness, Amelia takes the reader on a thought-provoking and entertaining journey. Join her as she cries at the first same-sex marriage in Britain, loses herself in the world’s biggest drag convention in L.A., marches at Pride parades across Europe, visits both a transgender model agency and the Anti-Violence Project in New York to understand the extremes of trans life today, parties in the clubs of Turkey’s underground LGBTQ+ scene, and meets a genderless family in progressive Stockholm.

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
    This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. It serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.

  • The Whispers by Greg Howard
    Before she disappeared, Riley’s mama used to tell him stories about the Whispers, mysterious creatures with the power to grant wishes.
    Riley wishes for lots of things. He wishes his secret crush Dylan liked him back. He wishes the bumbling detective would stop asking awkward questions. But most of all he wishes his mother would come home . . .
    Four months later, the police are no closer to finding out the truth – and Riley decides to take matters into his own hands.
    But do the Whispers really exist? And what is Riley willing to do to find out?
  • The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
    When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants – as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, which only gets harder once Flávia walks into her life.
    Beautiful and charismatic, Flávia takes Nishat’s breath away. But as their lives become tangled, they’re caught up in a rivalry that gets in the way of any feelings they might have for each other.
    Can Nishat find a way to be true to herself… and find love too?

Books and me: On my shelves with Jordan Cleary

Jordan Cleary from Winchester Library tells us about his favourite Young Adult (YA) books, LGBTQ+ stories, and the importance of representation in our reading.

Where is your favourite place to read?

I don’t read as often as I would like, but when I do get a chance to read, I like to do it in what I call a reading nook. It’s actually just a chair in the guest bedroom next to a bookshelf, but I like to call it that so it sounds more elegant than it actually is. I’ve tried reading in bed before, but I just can’t get comfy. Whichever side I lean on, one of my arms goes dead, so I usually just go to the nook.

Before I worked at Winchester Library, I was at New Milton Library which meant an hour commute on the train every day. I used to get through so many books because there’s not much else to do on a train and it was a good amount of time to just sit down and get stuck in a book. Now I work in Winchester and my commute is about 5 minutes. It’s much more convenient for me but I do miss having that dedicated reading time.

How do you read?

In an ideal world I would read about 20 maybe 30 books a year. We don’t live in an ideal world, so I read roughly 5 books a year. I don’t like reading in small chunks, I like to have proper sessions where I can just get my head in a book. I don’t like dipping in and out of a story because I like to really spend some proper time with the plot and the characters. I usually finish a book in three or four sittings, so if I don’t think I have enough time to read, I just won’t. I have tried audiobooks before, but I always find myself having to skip back because I’ve lost track of what’s going on in the story. So, for me, it can end up being more stressful than just reading. I do always carry a book with me though in the hope that I might find an hour spare.

I personally would never dog-ear a book; I really like to treat my books with care. Though I did once have my collection of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries by Robin Stevens displayed on a windowsill before I knew how badly books can be sun damaged. Each cover is a different bright colour, so they looked really nice all in a row on the windowsill. But the sun aged the paper and bleached all the colourful covers. Never again have I put a book on a windowsill. But I’m pragmatic in so far as, if you have bought a copy of your own book, I don’t care how you treat it. It sounds sentimental, but I actually think it’s really nice how we leave traces of ourselves in the books we read. Whether it’s a note in a margin, a coffee stain, or a folded page, the book can take on qualities of us and almost become a memory in itself.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been getting into graphic novels a lot because that’s one of my stock areas at work and YA is one of the genres that I really love. I’m reading the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman at the moment. It started off as a webcomic and is actually running as one still, but it became so popular that it began being published in volumes as a graphic novel. It’s a really sweet love story about two teenage boys in a British sixth form. There’s a lot of YA romance out there but I found Heartstopper quite different because it takes the story at quite a deliberate pace. I think where it started as a webcomic, the relationship is allowed the space and time to evolve in a far more realistic way. It also carries on after they fall in love as well and it’s really far more about their relationship after getting together which is quite rare in YA I think. It touches on a lot of different topics that are so important for us to learn from, from eating disorders and mental health, to homophobia, it’s the kind of book I wish I had as a teenager.

Reading patterns

My reading goes in cycles. I’d say I’m primarily a fan of fantasy, crime, and YA, though I do like natural science and true-crime books too. I picked up my interest in true crime mainly from my mum. Before I went to university, we would quite often stay up watching forensic documentaries and true crime stories. Right now in my genre cycle I’m in a YA phase, but I’ll probably come back to reading crime soon, it’s dependent on my mood.

I often check book blogs for recommendations, especially because I like LGBTQ+ novels and books that are quite off the beaten path. Although I don’t really believe we should pigeonhole a book based on its cover, it is often the first thing that jumps out at you about a book and covers often do a good job of telling you what kind of a read it’s going to be. If a crime novel has a dark, gritty aesthetic then you know that’s going to be quite a different book to the fluffy one next to it. It’s a good way to pick a book if you don’t have much time.

First loves, best loves

When I was younger my favourite author was Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series. They’re beautifully written, setting heavy novels and they have maps to help the world building in the front too; I love a good map in a book! Dragon Rider is another one of her novels that I loved when I was a bit younger. It’s about a boy trying to help a dragon find its home and they fly all over the world together, it’s very sweet and probably where my love of fantasy came from.

The lack of variety of books when I was growing up was a big problem in the early to mid-noughties. I grew up in a time where Section 28 was still enforced which meant that local authorities and government-maintained schools couldn’t promote or endorse LGBTQ+ content or represent those families. Even though it was repealed in 2003, it took quite a long time for schools, libraries, and councils to catch up and take up an equality angle. So, even in secondary school, I don’t remember being taught or shown stories that reflected me or others from the LGBTQ+ community. I’m sure they were out there somewhere if you knew where to look, but when you’re that age and coming out you don’t really know where to turn. I think unless those things are shown to you it’s quite easy to think that there are no books anywhere that actually represent who you are. But publishing houses are improving greatly at that and I think it’s great that schools and libraries are able to wholeheartedly promote these books and showcase these stories now. I didn’t have that growing up and it’s something that I feel like I really missed out on. I’m 26 now but I’m still reading a lot of YA fiction, I feel like I’m catching up on the books I would have read growing up if I had had the chance to.

Overlooked delights

I think children’s books are quite an odd genre because often it becomes dominated by celebrity authors who are marketed really well but aren’t necessarily popular for the quality of the books. I would really encourage people to explore some of the lesser-known children’s authors that are writing incredible books. The last children’s book I read was Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Many people may not have heard of him because he’s a debut novelist, but it’s a brilliant urban fantasy about the ‘bureau of supernatural affairs’. One of things I love about this book is that it features a black girl, Amari, as the main character. Too often when people of colour are included in books it’s as a supporting role. But Amari is prominently shown in centre stage of the front cover as the main character. It’s a children’s book, of course, so it doesn’t get too heavy, but it does touch on classism and bullying in a really interesting way and it explores that through some of the fantasy elements too. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an alternative to Harry Potter.

Another I would recommend is Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series which is aimed more at young teens. It’s set in an alternate London where, because of something they call “the Problem”, ghosts appear at night and attack the living. Young people are the only ones able to sense the spirits so agencies are set up for them to investigate “the Problem” and fight the hauntings.

For me, I would like to get into horror. I don’t really enjoy horror films because I find them too scary, but I’d really like to try the book alternative. I’d love to read some of the classic horror novels like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Jordan Cleary is a Library Team Assistant at Winchester Library and the Vice Chair of Hampshire County Council’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network. Jordan was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and me: On my shelves with Sam Peters

Honest autobiographies, elegant crime fiction, and Disability History Month. We caught up with Library Manager Sam Peters to hear about the books that are most important to her.

Where is your favourite place to read?

As a child I used to love reading on the stairs. One of the houses I grew up in had this curved staircase with a sunny spot part of the way down, and that used to make a perfect little place to read in. I also have a really vivid memory of reading the Harry Potter series one Christmas at my friend’s home in Amsterdam. It was the first time I had been away for Christmas and whenever I reread Harry Potter now, certain parts of the story transport me straight back to that sofa in Holland. These days it’s more about when I can find the time to read, so that is often in the staff room on my lunch breaks.

How do you read?

I love an audiobook and Borrowbox is brilliant for that, I think we’re so fortunate to have something like Borrowbox available to us.  I think if you’re not a big reader, or you find reading hard, or you just don’t have that much free time, audiobooks are a brilliant way to still have access to those stories. I enjoy the stories that have been dramatised and sound like radio plays. I listen to a lot of the older detective stories because I find the period really interesting, the Paul Temple series is one of my favourites, but I’m a big fan of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories too.

If I’m not listening to an audiobook, I like to read a paperback book. Every now and then I’ll come across a great book that I really enjoy and it’s so hard to put it down. I had that with both of Richard Osman’s books, The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I just carried them around the house and kept reading. They’re just so funny and I love the setting of the retirement village.

What are you reading at the moment?

I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction. For me, reading is a way to escape to somewhere different as much as anything else, but I have been reading some interesting autobiographies lately. Ellie Taylor’s My Child and Other Mistakes talks about her becoming a mother and her introduction to motherhood in a really funny and feminist way which was nice to read.

Right now, I’m juggling two autobiographies but they’re both really quite different. I’m reading The Storytellerby Dave Grohl and My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins. Dave Grohl’s book is quite a structured look at the bands and music that influenced him, whereas Joan Collins has literally published her uncensored diaries across a certain period of time. So, although they’re both autobiographies, they read totally differently.

I’ve also just finished The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which I just couldn’t put down. It’s a perfect read for anyone that loves a strong female lead. It’s very much about the character of Evelyn and her life, her husbands are a very small part of her story. 

Reading patterns

When I was younger, I would just go to the section of the library with surnames that matched the authors that I liked to see what books were there, but I think now I’m quite comfortable with what I like to read. I’m a fan of what I call ‘elegant crime fiction’. I love crime fiction, but I don’t like all the gory bits. I stick to the more mainstream books from the genre because I don’t want to risk reading something I won’t enjoy as my reading time is very precious. I don’t like leaving a book unfinished so I’ll always keep reading in the hopes that it will get better.

First loves, best loves

I was given a copy of Jane Eyre for my eleventh birthday and I just loved Jane. I thought she was so brave and strong, and her story is so interesting. Reading it as an adult I definitely pick up on parts that went over my head as a child. But it’s all about her choices and what she wants, and, for the period it was written, I think that’s actually really significant.

Another one of my favourites when I younger was An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley which I had to read for my GCSEs. I absolutely adored it and over the years I’ve seen it performed three or four times. It’s one that I always try to introduce people to if they don’t know it and about two years ago, I took my teenage children to see it and they loved it too.

As a crime fiction fan one of my favourites has to be Agatha Christie. I liked that she wrote female murderers, though the idea that a woman could do such wicked acts caused some controversy at the time. She allowed women to be complex and central characters and I think that’s a lot of why her books are still relevant today. If you compare Thursday Murder Club with Miss Marple, Richard Osman has clearly taken inspiration from Christie.

I went to Burgh Island in Devon a few years ago which is where And Then There Were None was set. Much of my bucket list is about visiting the places that Agatha Christie set her books, going on the Orient Express is pretty high up on the list.

Another author I love is Simon Brett. When I first started off with Hampshire Libraries, we sent him an email just to test the water and see if he would consider doing an event with us. He replied and was really excited and offered to do the event for free because he said he really wanted to support the library. I met him at Lymington Library and was the nicest he could have been I really enjoyed seeing him.

Overlooked delights

As it’s Disability History Month I’ve been reading Take Up Thy Bed and Walk by Lois Keith. It talks about the issues with how disability is presented in society and the histories of these ideas. Like in stories such as Pollyanna, where the disabled character is punished for wrongdoing, or the disability that the lead character has must be cured for the story to be resolved. I think it’s really important to talk about how these views in the world are formed because we’re still having to fight a lot of them. As someone with what would be classed as a hidden disability, it’s something that’s close to my heart and I’m glad that we can enable these conversations in the library with some of the brilliant books we have. I think reading can be a great way to challenge our pre-conceived notions or unconscious bias.

Sam Peters is a Library Manager covering the libraries within the Avon and forest areas of the New Forest. Sam was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Winter Reads

10 perfect winter reads

There’s nothing better than shutting the door against a bitter winter’s evening and curling up in the warm. All you need is a good book to settle down by the fire with, but don’t worry, we have you covered. Here are 10 books perfect for getting you through the long cold nights.

1. Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson

A special collection of 12 imaginative Christmas stories and 12 recipes from the renowned author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Frankissstein.

Ghosts and jovial spirits, chances at love and tricks with time. Jeanette Winterson’s stories are unfailingly brilliant and filled with wonder. These short stories make the perfect read before bed.

2.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

No seasonal reading list would be complete without an honourable mention of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas – it’s all humbug to him. But one Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, and then by three more spirits – the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. Will the things they show Scrooge be enough to make him change his miserly ways and learn the true meaning of Christmas?

Nostalgia, a haunting , and a cold heart that melts, what more could you want from a winter’s night?

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.”

3. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

4. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

When James wakes to see snow falling one December morning, he is delighted and rushes outside to make a snowman. With coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf and a tangerine nose, he is perfect, and James can hardly bear to go inside and leave him. In the middle of the night, he wakes and creeps out to see his snowman again – and to his amazement, the snowman comes to life!

5. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

A magical, wintery tale of friendship, love and adventure. Join Gerda on her epic journey to the mysterious, snowy lands of the frozen North. Meeting fairy-tale princesses, talking crows and wise old women with enchanted gardens, on her quest to rescue best friend Kai from the Snow Queen’s icy palace.

6. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Late on Christmas Eve, after the town has gone to sleep, a boy boards a mysterious train that waits for him: the Polar Express bound for the North Pole. When he arrives there, Santa offers him any gift he desires.

“Seeing is believing, but, sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

7.  Winter Wedding by Dilly Court

The brand new novel from the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author.

Rosalind Blanchard’s husband Piers is gravely wounded in a shipwreck, and she finds herself head of crumbling Rockwood Castle once more. Pregnant with his unborn child and alone, she turns to the only man who has ever made her heart sing. His brother Alex. Alex was her old love, but Piers must be her future. Until shocking news of Piers changes everything. As the first snowflakes begin to appear, so too does another chance of happiness for Rosalind.

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss

The classic tale of the disgruntled Grinch and his fiendish attempts to steal Christmas from the citizens of Whoville. With wacky rhymes and zany illustrations, this book has been a seasonal favourite for over 40 years.

“Maybe Christmas (he thought) doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”

9. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

It’s the night before Hogswatch. And it’s too quiet. Where is the big jolly fat man? There are those who believe and those who don’t, but either way, it’s not right to find Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho. Superstition makes things work in Discworld, and undermining it can have Consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. Susan the gothic governess has got to sort everything out by morning, otherwise, there won’t be a morning. Ever again…

10. The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

Upset elves, reindeers dropping out of the sky, angry trolls and the chance that Christmas might be cancelled. But Amelia isn’t just any ordinary girl. And – as Father Christmas is going to find out – if Christmas is going to be saved, he might not be able to do it alone.

Written by Isaac Fravashi

Books and me: On my Shelves with Vicky Duffell

Parenting poetry, picture books, and memoirs on mental health, Eastleigh Library Team Manager Vicky Duffell tells us about her favourite reads.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I like to read on the train, it gives you a nice time out from the world. I’m often on the train with my son though so we read a lot of picture books. Sometimes when I’ve been reading aloud to him, the story has brought over other children on the train who were listening, and they want to look at the pictures too! I have dyspraxia so I don’t drive and there’s a lot of waiting for public transport. I always have a book with me in case there are delays, reading is a great way to reclaim that time.

Whenever I go on holiday, I always like to read a book that’s set in the place I’m visiting. I read Elena Ferrante’s novels while on my honeymoon in Italy, the books have a really strong sense of place so they were perfect. I also read Tales of the City when I visited San Francisco, it was really interesting to see the city through the eyes of someone coming to the city for the first time just when I was doing the same.

How do you read?

I prefer traditional print books; I do have an e-reader, but I like the physicality of a book. You don’t get that new book smell with an e-reader. That’s a great thing about working at the library, we get to check through all the crisp new books that come in.

I usually only read one book for myself at a time, but I read to my son every night. We went through a phase of constantly reading Zog and the Flying Doctors because it’s one of his favourites, though I vary it as much as I can because it gets a little boring. Reading for my own pleasure is quite sporadic, I would love to sit down and finish a book in one sitting but that’s quite a luxury when you’re a parent. I try to find books with shorter chapters that don’t require long periods of reading to really get into, poetry’s great for that too.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish, it’s a book of poetry about the small things you never thought about until you become a parent. I don’t often read poetry but it’s a brilliant way to look at something we don’t often talk about. For example, one of the poems is about having to hide in the toilets while you’re breastfeeding, and I think the condensed language makes it really impactful. It’s a book I would recommend to everyone, even if you don’t have children or never want children, it offers a very real and honest insight into the ups and downs of parenthood.

Reading Patterns – Do you follow any specific authors or genre?

I do follow some authors, but I mainly like to read based on subject matter and I really like books that look at mental health. When I had my son I suffered from post-partum psychosis, a rare illness that only affects about 1 in 1,000 mums. One of my favourites is Inferno by Catherine Cho which is amazingly written. It’s interesting to read about someone who went through an experience that you’ve had. Being able to compare how it was similar and different to my experience, I felt very connected to the book.

I also recently read David Harewood’s book Maybe I Don’t Belong Here. I saw his documentary Psychosis and Me on the BBC about his experience of psychosis in his 20s. I’d never really seen anyone talk about psychosis on TV before, so I was really looking forward to reading his biography. He talks about how race and gender can come into your experience with mental health

First loves, best loves

I remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl when I was younger, but it wasn’t really until I was a teenager that I properly got into reading. I remember at the turn of the millennium we had the Everyman’s Library collection in my school, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to read so I just worked my way through all of those. They were lovely hardbacks with quite plain covers, and I think I liked that I was going into the books without any expectations.

I read so many picture books that I’ve really grown to love them. Nadia Shireen’s books are some of the best ones and I particularly loved The Bumblebear. It’s about a bear who dresses up as a bee to sneak into the bees’ school. It’s just such an adorable book and the illustrations are lovely too. Sometimes I think I enjoy the picture book more than my son does and I think some of them are written to be enjoyed by the parents as much as the children.

One of my favourite authors is Elif Shafak, she wrote The Forty Rules of Love which I really enjoyed but her memoir Black Milk is about her experience of post-partum depression and about how she struggled with writing after having a child.

Vicky manages the team at Eastleigh Library, which is located at the top of the Swan Centre. Vicky was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Barbara Kingsolver

Through her novels, essay collections and poems, Barbara Kingsolver an ecologist and biologist by training, writer and political activist by inclination, combines grand and sometimes controversial themes with the gift of a true storyteller.

Her best-known novels concern the endurance of people living in often inhospitable environments and the beauty to be found even in such harsh circumstances, but Kingsolver likes to take a difficult subject and spin it into the most appealing package she can find, so that readers can enjoy wandering among her thorny questions. With each new book she publishes she is able to draw deeper on our complex relationships with the environment.

The Bean Trees
Her first novel, now widely regarded as a modern classic, is the charming tale of rural Kentucky native Taylor Greer, out of money and seemingly out of options, settles in dusty Tucson and begins working at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires while trying to make a life for herself.

Pigs in Heaven
An unforgettable road trip from rural Kentucky and the urban Southwest to Heaven, Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation, testing the boundaries of family and the many separate truths about the ties that bind.

The Poisonwood Bible
An international bestseller and a modern classic, the epic story of one family’s tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

Prodigal Summer
Over the course of one humid, Appalachian summer, four distinct and disparate characters find their connections of love to one another and to the surrounding nature with which they share a place.
With its strong balance of narrative and drama, Prodigal Summer is stands alongside The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna as one of Barbara Kingsolver’s finest works.

The Lacuna
Born in America and raised in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is a liability to his social-climbing mother, Salome. When he starts work in the household of Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – where the Bolshevik leader, Lev Trotsky, is also being harboured as a political exile – he inadvertently casts his lot with art, communism, and revolution.

Flight Behaviour
On the Appalachian Mountains above her home, a young mother discovers a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature: the monarch butterflies have not migrated south for the winter this year. Is this a miraculous message from God, or a spectacular sign of climate change.

Unsheltered
Willa Knox stands braced against a world which seems to hold little mercy for her, her family – or their old, crumbling house. Willa’s two grown-up children, a new-born grandchild, and her ailing father-in-law have all moved in at a time when life seems at its most precarious. But when Willa discovers that a pioneering female scientist lived on the same street in the 1800s, could this historical connection be enough to save their home from ruin and keep the family together?

Small Wonder
This collection of essays is an extended love song to the world live in. Whether she is contemplating the Grand Canyon, her vegetable garden, motherhood, adolescence, genetic engineering, TV-watching, or the history of civil rights, these essays are grounded in the author’s belief that our largest problems have grown from the earth’s remotest corners as well as our own backyards, and that answers may lie in those places, too.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating
Barbara Kingsolver and her family attempt a year of eating only local food, much of it from their own garden. Inspired by the flavours and culinary arts of a local food culture, she shows us how to put food back at the centre of the political and family agenda. Part-memoir, part journalistic investigation, this book is full of original recipes that celebrate healthy eating, sustainability and the pleasures of good food.

Books and me: Carly Harrod

Carly Harrod from Hampshire Countryside Service tells us about the books that inspired a career with nature and why adults should read more children’s books.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I like to find a nice sunny spot in the garden to sit and read my book, so I tend to read more in the summertime. Usually as soon as I finish work, I like to get out in the garden to read something. I have a wood fire in my living room so it can be nice to curl up in the evening and read a bit of a book there too.

How do you read?

I went through a stage of reading on my kindle until I filled my kindle up, but I actually really like the feel and smell of a real book, so I tend to read more physically.  If I’m really into a book I can’t stop reading it. I need to read it until it’s finished. So that might mean I read constantly for two days if I have time, but that can be hard when you have a seven-year-old running around. I find if I leave a book for too long, I get a bit lost and I might move onto something else and forget about it, so I like to read in one hit.

I like an easy read that I can just get completely lost in. There are some books that I just cannot get into though, and I’ll just stop and move onto another book if I’m not enjoying it. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien is one that I keep trying but I just can’t get through. I love Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit,but I get about 5 pages into The Silmarillion and just can’t go further. But I will never get rid of a book, I will always keep it in case I want to come back to it another time because it might not be that I will never like that book, it might just be the way I’m feeling on that day or that I’m just not into that genre at the moment.

Books are quite precious to me, I would never fold a page over or leave a book open and face down to save a page either. I have a few books that are really special and they sit in their dust jackets on my shelf to keep them safe.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series which I re-read all the time, especially in the summer. They’re just nice books to return to because I can get through one of them in a couple of days and I love to just get lost in that magical world.

Reading patterns

Fantasy is a big love of mine and I really enjoy authors like Tolkien and Pratchett, but I also love a bit of Scandi-noir. They’re crime novels that tend to follow the police trying to solve a puzzling case and I love the twists and turns, but they can be a bit darker. I think because they’re set in cities covered with snow, the crimes feel so far removed from here and I find them easier to read about. Samuel Bjork’s novels are some of my favourites but those are as dark as I can go with reading now. I used to be really into horror writing, I loved Stephen King and James Herbert, but I can’t read them at all these days. I used to love the Point Horror book series when I was growing up and R.L. Stine was my absolute favourite Point Horror writer but I think as I get older I prefer reading books that leave me with a nice feeling at the end.

First love, best loves

I have older siblings and a lot of what I read came from them. They had this lovely bookcase filled with some really old-fashioned books, like Swallows and Amazons and Enid Blyton and other books that can be quite outdated now. But I loved these stories about children going out into the countryside and having adventures. I think that’s probably why I do what I do now. As I got older, I began getting into the Point Horror books, I did enjoy them them but it was what everyone was reading at the time. What really stands out in my memory is when my sister bought me The Hobbit. I absolutely loved it. It’s still one of my favourite books and I go back and re-read it constantly. It was one of the first more adult books that I had ever been given. The writing was so immersive, I really felt like I was going to Middle Earth.

A series of books that I really love is by Monica Dickens, the series starts with The House at World’s End. It’s about this group of siblings who get sent away to live on a farm on their own and end up looking after all the stray animals in the area. They’re just such nice books, there’s nothing horrible in them, just very sweet escapism.

I also spend a lot of time looking through ID guides as part of my job and they can be really interesting. One that I absolutely love is called The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, the pictures in it are all hand drawn. It shows plants and animals all throughout the seasons and it’s just beautiful. Another brilliant one is Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary which is all about the Itchen Valley and the nature you can find throughout it. They’re both brilliant because even though they’re really old, it’s still plants and animals that we recognise. For anyone who wants to get out and become more involved with nature I would really recommend Francis Rose’s book on wildflowers, it’s a brilliant book to get started identifying flowers and I would really recommend Joseph Cornell’s book of activities for something to do as a family too.

But my all-time favourite book is A Fly Went By from Dr Suess. It’s just a long poem. I still have the copy that was read to me as a child and I still read it to my kids. Our oldest kids have children of their own now and we bought the book for them to read to their children as well.

Overlooked delights

I think adults should read more children’s books. They’re just simple pleasures with nothing bad happening. I like the positivity in life, and I think children’s books show us that. One I really enjoyed recently was Oi Frog! There are some fantastic kids’ books out there that can teach you stuff as well as teaching your kids stuff and I think we forget that. It reminds us of when things were easier, and I think we all need that sometimes.

Carly Harrod is a Project Manager for the Countryside Service, as part of her role she looks after the Countryside Service social media account and supports the volunteers who work throughout Hampshire. She regularly speaks on the Looking After Nature podcast. Carly was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.