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Harvest Home by Julia Jones

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Regularly at this time of year I snuff the air for that warm, baked biscuit smell and listen out for the rumble of heavy machinery hurrying past or working late into the evening until the dew falls. Harvest hymns run on a loop inside my head as the fields open yet more widely to the sky. Harvest feels purposeful, potentially triumphant, but breath-holdingly tense. This is a triumph that won’t be earned until the last load has been brought in.  There’s no other moment quite like it.   It's a vestigial response from forgotten generations of farming ancestors and the period when I was living in a farming family and would likely be found packing a basket at tea time and hurrying to the field with a flask and sandwiches and the children clamouring to be lifted up for a ride.Two things prompt this month’s blog (three, if you count Francis’s barely concealed expression of dismay when I threatened to re-share something John’s Campaign-y. He was right of course; there’s been a lot too much…

They’re only words -- Bill Kirton

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As writers, we’re frequently expected to articulate shared experiences on behalf of those of our fellows less fluent with words. To be fair, that’s also true of composers, visual artists, dancers and many others. But it’s the fact that we use words (such as lockdown, social distancing, isolation, contact) that seems to put us more immediately in the firing line. According to experts in linguistics, words are, after all, ‘signifiers’, i.e. they ‘signify’ some thing, give it ‘significance’. In other words, in highly inadequate terms, they ‘mean’ something definite.
Those of you who are poets will immediately (and rightly) insist that that’s far too restrictive a notion. From Yeats’s ‘Silver apples of the moon’ and ‘golden apples of the sun’ to Beckett’s ‘Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, a word’s ‘meaning’ is only a starting point, an approximation, a thing of potential.
And yet the expectation is still that we can shuffle a few wee signifiers togeth…

Zooming into the Houseparty - Debbie Bennett

I’m one of the lucky ones. I can work from home with relative ease. Now that Clare lives elsewhere, you’d think that being child-free would be easy, but unfortunately I’m not husband-free – and with us both working from home, we generally operate on schedules that appear to be light-years apart. I’ll be in the middle of something, at my desk in the dining room, and he’ll come in and switch the tv on in the lounge while he eats his breakfast. Since we moved, I no longer have the luxury of my own space, so I’m getting used to television-plus-husband’s-opinion in the background.But I can work from home. And I can work in the office too. It’s a short drive and not particularly crowded as yet, with alternate desks marked as not to be used and signs and stickers on every surface including the floor – much like the High Street is right now with the pavement littered with round circles as if we can’t work out for ourselves where to stand. It’s all such a mess out there, isn’t it? I go into wo…

A Reminder of Past Travels (or maybe I should say travails) - Cecilia Peartree

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Thanks to Jo Carroll for reminding me in her recent post that travel still exists!
Almost every year on the 7th of June, Facebook helpfully prompts me to remember the night I unexpectedly spent in the Comfort Hotel, Malmo, on that date in 2014. I don't really need a reminder of it, not because it was a terrible hotel - on the contrary, it was one of the most friendly and welcoming places I've ever stayed in - but because of the effort involved in getting there and the fact that I hadn't intended to spend the night there at all but in Stockholm.

I'm not going to go into all the horrid detail here, but while still in transit to Helsinki, my ultimate destination, I wrote a live blog, with much ranting about how awful the train company Deutsche Bahn was and why I couldn't decide whether I hated it more or less than Virgin Trains. I will post a link to my trains blog at the end of this post for anyone who is interested.
I have fond memories of the Comfort Hotel. I walked i…

Murder on the Metaphor Express - Umberto Tosi

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COVID-19 has rearranged our metaphors, especially for those of my advanced years, and co-morbidities that require lying low. Hunter-gatherer/adventure-hero idioms have taken a back seat to quieter images of fishing (online) and burrowing, surviving on deliveries from FedEx, Instacart, and Amazon. No longer able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I am a hermit crab in a conch shell, a trapdoor spider awaiting victuals via Grubhub.

I thought about how the pandemic affects me creatively beyond material circumstances while reading Intimations, a powerful collection of six, "shape-shifting," intimate essays about the COVID-related experiences of Zadie Smith. In this slim volume, the British born, NYU literary professor, essayist, and novelist crosses the Atlantic on the high wire of writing with grace and insight about unfolding tragedy whose conclusion remains uncertain. The brilliance with which she succeeds flashed me back to Joan Didion's 1968 breakthrough literar…

Coming of Age -- Peter Leyland

Coming of Age
How many of us have a Coming of Age novel buried in the mysteries of our hard drives and anxious to be freed, or a partial hard copy in a folder of notes waiting to be worked on, or even an old notebook where the imaginary story of their life is penned in neatly styled longhand? I know I have all of these.
So, what is a coming of age novel?  Try to recall one that made a real impression on you.  It may be that you loved The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and said to yourself, yes this is me and this explains the phoney world that I'm living in and how nobody understands me except my sister Phoebe; it may be that you recall the wonderful experience of reading The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers and completely understood why the young lead character, Frankie, wants to go to her brother's wedding and honeymoon because just like she did you wanted to belong to something.
I was once teaching a Julian Barnes course which began with his Metroland (1980 and …

Less is more - Griselda Heppel begs for fewer fewers

Being a frightful pedant, but obviously not wishing to look like one, I always rejoice when someone else brings up the subject of grammar. So thank you, Enid, Sandra, Jan, Bill and Eden forconducting such a lively discussion on the subject on Authors’ Electric a couple of days ago. Various reasons were given for what bad grammar signifies, including poor ability to communicate (yes, often) or a general incompetence (I wouldn’t go that far – but it depends on how disastrous a person’s grammar is I suppose!). To those I’d like to add my particular aversion: intellectual snobbery arising from ignorance. So, here goes:1.WHOM. This should only ever be used in the genitive, dative or ablative case and sometimes not even then. Of whom, to and for whom, by, with, from and in whom are all correct. But you don’t always need to be so pure, especially not in realistic dialogue. ‘Who are you talking to?’ rings much more naturally than ‘Whom are you talking to?’ or to be thoroughly Victorian, ‘To w…