Monday, 26 June 2017

Lillian Beckwith's Tales of Life On a Remote Hebridean Croft

I was trying to recall what first put me on to the books of Lillian Beckwith many years ago, most likely it was by happening to find a library book once that captivated me.  Whatever it was, I'm glad I made their acquaintance and collected them (though am still missing some other titles outside of this series), as they are a joy to read and have much humour and warmth and are filled with completely down-to-earth characters and amusing mishaps.  Despite the hard work and sometimes hardship, there's something alluring about someone taking off to a remote island or countryside and being free and getting by on their own, or nearly on their own, though this usually involves being blessed with the help of others (which is always reciprocated in the small community-people care about each other and don't want others to go without or be neglected).  Taking off to an old stone cottage in the remote Hebrides in Scotland for a doctor-ordered rest is just what Lillian Beckwith did in the beginning of this series, with book number one, 'The Hills Is Lonely', first published in 1959. 

At the beginning, when reading the offers for lodgings, in reply to her advert posted in a paper, this first one from a certain Hebridean crofter was the start of her new life: 

Dear Madam,    Its just now I saw your advert when I got the book for the knitting pattern I wanted from my cousin Catriona.  I am sorry I did not write sooner if you are fixed up if you are not in any way fixed up I have a good good stone house and tiles and my brother Ruari who will wash down with lime twice every year. Ruari is married and lives just by.  She is not damp.  I live by myself and you could have the room that is not a kitchen and a bedroom reasonable.  I was in the kitchen of the lairds house till lately when he was changed God rest his soul the poor old gentleman that he was.  You would be very welcomed.  I have a cow also for milk and eggs and the minister at the manse will be referee if you wish such.   Yours affectionately, MORAG McDUGAN
P.S. She is not thatched. 

 She loved it so much that she decided to stay and buy her own croft.  Her rest cure was abandoned as she found herself drawn in to working harder than she ever had in her life, and getting very healthy in the pure island atmosphere! And so this series continued on.

Here I will feature the lovely art on the dust jackets (for seven of the books) by Douglas Hall, which perfectly suits the stories. 

'The Sea For Breakfast'

'The Loud Halo'

'A Rope- In Case'

'Lightly Poached'

'Beautiful Just!'

'Bruach Blend'

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Man Behind The Glass: A Victorian Gothic Tale by Greg Howes

I was recently kindly sent a copy of this 2014 original and fascinating story, 'The Man Behind The Glass' by Greg Howes, the author.  It is a unique book, I've never read anything like it. It is richly immersed in the atmospheres, sights, sounds, and (sometimes very unpleasant) scents of Victorian London.  His writing is highly descriptive to all the senses, the scenes are vividly brought to life, almost as if you are experiencing them yourself, a sensation that can be lacking in many modern tales.  The use of lavish descriptions are one of the elements that I love about Victorian writers, and Greg Howes does have a strong Victorian influence which shines through.  The novel keeps you intrigued throughout; one continually wonders where things are heading and what will be the outcome.  It is hard to put down, though I did slowly take my time to finish it, slowly digesting what had just happened.

I will leave the rest of this to the synopsis on the back of the book, as I couldn't sum it up any better:

"The Man Behind The Glass is based around a character called Septimus Blackwood, a Victorian photographer with a difference.  The tale is set in London's East End in the year 1860.  A mysterious Gothic adventure of a man's quest to capture life and cheat death through photography.  Septimus races against time to discover his family's long lost legacy buried deep amongst the forgotten rivers and cellars of old London.  Unbeknown to him a mysterious old woman looks on..."

"The story, along with its highly satirical characters escort the reader on an emotional journey into a world of intrigue, suspense and the supernatural.  Atmosphere seeps out of every gulley of this twisting and ever turbulent road; darkness and light, creation and calamity.  Encounter magical discoveries that will pick the pocket of your dreams for now and evermore."