Category: Book Musings (page 1 of 10)

October 2019 Review

Another month passes, and there are a few more books read from Mount TBR. Only sixteen this month, which I was a little disappointed with, to be honest. Ho hum, this is a hobby at the end of the day and I primarily read for pleasure. I did read some really good books though, and here they are:


Who Owns England? is a loaded question, and it is a question that Guy Shrubsole has been trying to answer for years. Believe it or not, not one really know exactly who owns what for around 15 – 20 % of the land, but modern technology is starting to address this blank space. It is a polemic on how the elite and landed gentry have had it their own way for far too long and I would say it is an essential read for anyone interested in landscape.


I read two excellent fiction books this month, first up was Cynan Jones’ near future book set in the UK. It is suffering from freshwater shortages. Razor-sharp writing and almost poetic in its style. You can’t go wrong with a Benjamin Myers book, and the Offing continued that. Set just after World War II it is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who doesn’t want to work in the pit and sets of from Durham to the Yorkshire Coast. It is there he meets Dulcie and she sees his potential and they form an unlikely friendship.

Effing Birds was one of my blog tour books, and you need to be pretty broad-minded to read this as it is a bit (sorry, a lot) sweary. Aaron Reynolds does not hold back and it is hilarious though.

This was one of the Royal Society Shortlisted book and it is a maths book. Some of you will run with horror from the room at the thought of maths, but I like reading them. In Infinite Powers, Steven Strogatz has written just how much the understanding of Calculus affects us in modern society.


I read three very different memoirs this month. First up is Lowborn by Kerry Hudson. This is a story of her childhood in poverty and at the very fringes of society and of returning to those places and memories. Well worth reading. The very slender book, Of Walking in Ice, is the story of Werner Herzog’s walk to Paris to see a friend who was very ill. Surreal at times, but I can see why it is a classic. Danie Couchman is one of the many who could not afford to buy a property in London, but she did make a home in a small boat on the London canal system and Afloat is her memoir about life there.

I was sent a copy of Tempest by Patrician Press. This is an anthology of short fiction, essays and poems about our present political ‘tempestuous’ times.


I read one book on The Making Of Poetry by the great Adam Nicolson. this book is about the short period of time that Coleridge and the Wordsworths were together in the West country and the creative force that this unleased. My poetry book this month was the acclaimed Hannah Sullivan’s Three Poems. Very different from other poetry books that I have read, this year.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, there is quite a lot of politics going on at the moment. The root of what is going on though is very concisely summed up in The Three Dimensions of Freedom by Billy Bragg. Bit short, but still an interesting discourse.


Ross Barnet’s book, The Missing Lynx, is about the lost megafauna of the British Isles and contemplates the possibilities of bringing some of the larger predators back as part of a rewilding programme. Clearing The Air by Tim Smedley is the full story about what’s happened to the air we breathe.  the pollution and particulate matter and more importantly what we can do to bring back better quality air.

From the author of The Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier, Eland has pulled together a collection of travel writings translated here for the first time into English. From the Aran isles in mid-winter to Xian, Korea to lowland Scotland, these essays are a flavour of a travel writer of the highest quality.

My book of the month was the fantastic Ring the Hill by Tom Cox. Loosely about hills, it is as wide-ranging as you’d expect from Tom as he writes about maps, hares and even ventures as far as the beach. Of course, we have a visit from his LOUD DAD too. Highly recommended. Read it soon.

Any of these that you have read? Or now want to read? Tell me in the comments below.


November 2019 TBR

Another month passes and more books get finished, but the ever-looming TBR is always ahead. I did fairly well on my TBR list from October, reading 13 from the list and a couple of other additions getting to 15 books read, which is one below target. For those that don’t know it, it is Non-Fiction November too.  #NonfictionNovember is a month-long nonfiction reading initiative hosted by @abookolive. You can find her on #booktube to find out more. I will mostly be reading non-fiction as ever, but have a couple of fiction books that I am committed to reading. 

Anyway, onto my TBR for the coming month:


Blog Tours

Just the one this month, Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below – Steve Denehan



Superheavy: Making And Breaking The Periodic Table – Kit Chapman

The Edge Of The World: A Cultural History Of The North Sea And The Transformation Of Europe – Michael Pye

Dark Skies: A Journey Into The Wild Night – Tiffany Francis

Buzz: The Necessity And Nature Of Bees – Thor Hanson


Review Books

Chasing the Ghost – Peter Marren

Ness – Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood

Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community and the Meaning of Generosity – Priya Basil

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

Salvation Lost – Peter F. Hamilton

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novrik

Stealing With The Eyes – Will Buckingham

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

Incandescent – Ann Levin

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure – Alastair Humphreys

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry – Fred Pearce

Wintering – Stephen Rutt

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili


Own Books / Wishful thinking

The White Heron Beneath the Reactor by Gary Budden & Maxim Griffin

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee – P. D. Murphy

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days – Clare Fuller



Two left to go on this, though as I type this, even British summertime has now gone.

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce


Any there take your fancy (I know that some have been on previous TBRs!)

Ake Festival 2019

Welcome to my blog, Halfman Halfbook. I am one of the blogs on the tour promoting the AKE FESTIVAL, is Africa’s leading book festival and it will take place from 24th – 27th October 2019 in Lagos, Nigeria.  It is the most important book event on the African continent.

 Now in its seventh year, Ake Festival brings together the biggest and brightest names in the world of books from across Africa and the African diaspora. Showcasing the best contemporary fiction, non-fiction, poetry and thinking from Africa, the festival also plays host to film screenings, theatre performances, poetry readings, art exhibitions and dance performances from Africa’s biggest names. Inspiring people to engage with the power of books to inform, enlighten and inspire, Ake festival provides a platform for debates that challenge African norms, attitudes and traditions.

This year’s festival includes some of Africa’s most exciting contemporary authors, including Zimbabwe’s most important writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, Man Booker Prize 2019 shortlisted author Bernadine Evaristo who also founded the African Poetry Prize, the Sunday Times bestselling author of My Sister the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite, award-winning Angolan author Jose Agualusa, and Reni Eddo-Lodge the internationally acclaimed author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.  

Other headline authors include Nnedi Okorafor Africa’s leading science fiction and fantasy author whose World Fantasy Award-winning novel Who Fears Death is currently being adapted for an HBO TV series. Ayobami Adebayo is the critically acclaimed author of Stay with Me, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Guardian Best Book of the Year.  Feminist activist Mona Eltahawy is the Egyptian-American author of the brilliant The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls.

The lineup also includes two authors who used their writing to tackle the 2014 mass-kidnapping of schoolgirls by terrorist group Boko Haram, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani author of the award-winning YA novel Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, based on dozens of interviews with women and girls kidnapped by terrorist group and Helon Habila whose short and powerful The Chibok Girls was a Penguin special investigation publication. He will be discussing Travellers, his fantastic new novel

The festival theme this year is: Black Bodies | Grey Matter

Events will explore how our minds and bodies have impacted – and been impacted by the course of history. Colonialism, multiculturalism, internecine violence, organised religion, cultural attitudes and practices have all left their mark. While specific practices such as scarification and tattoos leave physical traces, colourism, stereotyping and gender non-conformity exert their influence on both psyche and soma. The interrogation of these issues will yield fascinating and illuminating insights. This theme, in the hands of Africa’s leading creatives and thinkers, will give rise to discussions and conversations that will enrich our understanding of the African condition.

Sadly I can’t go to this, but it does sound fantastic. I can share an extract from one of the authors, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi from her book, Manchester Happened


An ambitious and assured collection of short stories from the internationally acclaimed author of Kintu

If there’s one thing the characters in Jennifer Makumbi’s stories know, it’s how to field a question.

‘Let me buy you a cup of tea… what are you doing in England?’

‘Do these children of yours speak any Luganda?’

‘Did you know that man Idi Amin?’

But perhaps the most difficult question of all is the one they ask themselves: ‘You mean this is England?’


Told with empathy, humour and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling, polyphonic collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong.

A clock across on a building claimed 8.30 in the morning but the sun was nowhere. The world’s ceiling was low and grey, the air was smoke-mist, the soil was black. After a silence of disbelief, Abu whispered, ‘Where is the sun?’ Ruwa laughed. ‘No wonder these people are just too eager to leave this place: the sun does not come out?’ ‘Sometimes it does. Mostly it rains.’ ‘All this wealth but no sun?’ ‘That’s why they love it at ours too much. Always taking off their clothes and roasting themselves.’ Abu wanted to stay on the ship until it was repaired but Ruwa, who had been to Manchester several times, held his hand and led him into Salford. Abu, twenty-one years old, gripped Ruwa’s hand like a toddler.

They set off for a seamen’s club, the Merchant Navy Club in Moss Side, where they would know where his friend, Kwei, a Fante from the Gold Coast, lived. Even though he told Abu, ‘Don’t fear; Manchester is alright even to African seamen. It even has African places – Lagos Close, Freetown Close – where Africans stay, I’ll show you’, they walked all the way from Salford to Manchester city centre to Moss Side because Abu would not get on a tram.‘I know how to behave around whites,’ he said. ‘I’ve been to South Africa.’ ‘The British are different, no segregation here.’ ‘Who lied you, Ruwa? Their mother is the same.’ For Abu, being surrounded by a sea of Europeans in their own land brought on such anxiety that for the first time he regretted running away from home. To think that it all began with a picture on a stupid war recruitment poster – OuR AllieS the COlOnieS. At the time, all he wanted was to join the King’s African Rifles and wear that uniform. To his childish eyes the native in the picture looked fearless and regal in a fez with tassels falling down the side of his face and a coat of bright red with a Chinese collar of royal blue edged with gold. That palm tree trinket on the fez with the letters T.K.A.R. – Abbey coveted it. He wanted to hold a gun and hear it bark, then travel beyond the seas and be a part of the warring worlds. He had heard his father talk about the European war with breathless awe. He had wanted it so desperately he could not wait four years until he was eighteen to enlist. In any case, the war might be over by then. Besides, at fourteen, he was taller than most people. And the British were notoriously blind. Often, they could not tell girls from boys. Also, they were desperate for recruits because recently some Kapere had started to ask men who turned up to enlist ‘Sex?’, which the translator turned into

‘Are you a man or a woman?’ The men just walked away: who had time for that? Unfortunately, a friend of his father saw him and pulled him out of the queue. When his father found out, he warmed his backside raw. That was when he swore to enlist in Kenya. After the war, he would come home elegant in his red uniform and fez and he would be made head of the royal army. Then his father would eat his words. With a few friends, Ssuuna had jumped on a train wagon and hidden among sacks of cotton. What he remembered most about that journey was not the incessant jarring and grinding or screeching of rail metal, but the itching of sisal sacks. No one had warned them that Nairobi was frosty in June, especially in the morning. The boys had never known such cold. They thought they would die. And then the British turned them away. Ssuuna was told to come back in two years – the British were blind by two years – and his friends were told to go home to their mamas! That was when his troubles began. Returning home was out of the question. Where would he say he had been? His father wanted him to stay in school, but studying was not for him. He wanted to be a soldier, shoot a gun, throw bombs and blow things up, and win a war. While they waited to grow up, Ssuuna and his friends travelled to Mombasa. Everyone said that there was more life in Mombasa, the gateway to the world.

Thank you Midas PR for the extract and I hope that the festival is a success.

Follow them on Twitter for more information:  @akefestival

Find the hashtag #akefestival to follow what is going on


Cheltenham Literature Festival

It is the 70th Anniversary for The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival this year. It runs from 4 – 13 October 2019 . The Festival will bring more than 900 of the best writers, thinkers and performers of our time to the vibrant Regency town, setting the scene for once-in-a-lifetime conversations to take place over ten extraordinary days of unique experiences, critical debate and literary revelry.

For those of you that are regular readers and followers of the blog (thank you), you’ll know that I am a big fan of reading the tales of those that head out to explore our amazing planet. Some of the writers that are appearing are below:

Adam Weymouth
Monisha Rajesh and here
Alastair Humphreys and here
Levison Wood and here, here, here and here
Luke Turner
Emma Mitchell
Erling Kagge and here
Mark Boyle
Ben Fogle
Philip Marsden
Dan Richards

Click on the names to see my reviews on their books. One of the authors appearing is Raynor Winn. Her book, The Salt Path is a wonderful story of her walk around the South West Coast Path after they had been made homeless. My review is below:

The bad news came fast, Raynor Winn’s husband had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they had just lost a court case even though they had the evidence that they were not liable for debts and now the bailiffs were hammering on the door to take their farm and livelihood away. Their only income would be £48 per week. It is at times like these that some people would have a breakdown or consider a more permanent end to the problems, they didn’t; inspired by the book 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington they decided that as they were homeless anyway they may as well walk the south coast path.

With the precious little money they have, they buy a new lightweight tent, a couple of sleeping bags and new rucksacks and drive the van to Minehead in Somerset as that is where all the guidebooks begin. Moth’s condition of corticobasal degeneration or CBD, meant that the doctor had advised him to take it easy and not to overdo it; probably not attempt a 630-mile walk around the spectacular coastline of the south-west. The first part of the footpath is probably the toughest section with the high cliffs and steep paths and it is a struggle for both, but Moth in particular. They have no money for official campsites, so wild camping was the way to go, ensuring that they found a place out of sight, and were packed up before they could be discovered in the morning.

They met all sorts of people of the walk, but telling those that they met that they were homeless would a lot of the time cause a lot of prejudice and they would be shunned, called tramps or worse. Sitting eating a shared pack of budget noodles when other are stuffing pasties and ice creams in, is quite soul destroying. However, there were others who would be prepared to help, providing hot drinks, paying for food, and even a millionaire wine importer who wined and dined them for an evening. One man they met on a cliff path told them about salted blackberries, picked right at the very end of the season just before they turned when the flavour was most intense and dusted with the salt from the sea they gorged on them whenever they could find them. They had completed a fair chunk of the route, before stopping and staying with a friend, earning a little money and starting to plan a future once again. Rather than head back to where they had stopped, they came to Poole and started from the other end walking through the Jurassic Coast back to the place that they had stopped a few months previously.

This is a heartwarming and inspiring story of a couples fight back against a life-changing legal decision that left them totally penniless. Winn writes with an honesty that is quite moving, she is open with her feelings and her thoughts about the people she meets on their walk and the events that led to them walking. There are some moments in here that may make you cry as well as some amusing anecdotes that will have you chuckling. What does come across throughout the book is the inner strength of Raynor and Moth, to overcome a financial situation that most could not recover from, the way that Moth manages to use the walk to improve his health and that being in the right place at the right time can offer an opportunity that can be life-changing. If there is one thing that can be taken from this, it is that there is nothing that human optimism can’t overcome.

You can find who is talking in the full programme here

Follow them on Twitter here: @CheltLitFest

See who is talking about it by searching for the hashtag: #cheltlitfest

September 2019 Review

Autumn has definitely got a grip on the season now and I find that the way the light pivots on the equinox is one of our magical times of the year. A few stats on my reading as we have reached nine months now. I have read 158 books so far, 73 review copies, 71 from the library and 15 of my own. 106 of these books have been written by men and 53 by women, this works out at 33% and I am a couple of per cent down on my target of 35%. My top five categories are travel, natural history, fiction, poetry and science and my top five publishers are Eland, Unbound, Jonathan Cape, Faber and Faber and Bloomsbury. Let me know if you want to know what the other publishers and categories are.

It was a good month for reading too, I managed to get through another 17 books from the TBR and here there are:

Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines was about the crucial role that women played in engineering from World War 1 onwards. A really fascinating read.


I have loved all of Dave Goulson’s books so far and when I spotted The Garden Jungle in the library grabbed it. It is a well thought out and written book on how we can use our garden and green spaces to maximise the opportunities to help the much-beleaguered insect and wildlife in our country. In a similar vein is The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. This is the story of Kate Bradbury’s garden and how it went from a yeard full of decking to a green oasis buzzing with life

Michael Dobbs-Higginson is a fairly unique character and A Raindrop in the Ocean is his memoir about his life in business and travelling the world. Made for an interesting read.


I read six natural history books this month, and they are all very different and all worth reading. How to See Nature was written to help people reconnect with the natural world. One way of doing it is to go pond dipping and ponds are the focus of John Lewis-Stempel’s latest book. The Hen Harrier is a reprint of Donald Watson’s classic book and while it has dated a bit now, I thought it was good.



Woodlands are some of my favourite things, and the other three natural history books were about British woodlands. Epitaph for the Ash is about the ash dieback disease and the devastating effect it is having on our woodlands. Lisa Samson almost didn’t write this book as part of the way through she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I also read two books by Oliver Rackham, both published by Little Toller. The Ash Tree is a celebration of the much-underrated tree and the woods it inhabits. The Ancient Woods of the Helford River is a detailed and fascinating survey of this creek on the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall.

Don McCullin is best known for his gritty reportage photography. The Landscape is photos taken recently and over his career of the places that he has been to over his life. Beautiful photographs.

My poetry book for the month was Us by Zaffar Kunial. Still thinking about this, but really liked some of the poems contained within. Want to read his next one, Six on cricket too.


I did get to read two of the Royal Society Prize books. John Gribbin’s Six Impossible Things is a short and baffling book on the quantum world. The Remarkable Life Of The Skin is an uncovering of our largest organ and it a really interesting read.

I have had White Mountain book from the library for ages so thought that I had better get round to it. I had it down for my #WorldFromMyArmchair Challenge for Nepal, but it is mostly about other peoples journey’s there rather than his own. Really like his style of writing though and have his book about his journey through Canada in a birchbark canoe.


Finally onto my book of the month, except this month there were two. The latest book from Kathleen Jamie, Surfacing, which is moving and brilliant and the second is A Claxton Diary by the immensely talented (and genuinely lovely) Mark Cocker. All I can say is read them both.

Interview With Horatio Clare

Paul Cheney: How close did you feel to Bach when following in his footsteps?

Horatio Clare: Intrigued at the outset, if somewhat distant. Absolutely right next to him at the end. He went from being a fleshy, slightly chopsy fellow in a painting to a young man, vigorous, hungry for action, drink, sex and music – the kind of writer, at a certain stage, any of us might recognise.

PC: You had companions on the walk, do you think walking alone would have given you a different perspective on Bach’s journey?

HC: Unquestionably. You might get a lot closer to his spirit (assuming it still walks the earth, sometimes!) but you would be much further from his work, from his time. One of my companions was Richard Andrews, one of those artist-crafts people you sometimes find in Broadcasting House, making the finest-sounding radio in the world, among other things. The other, our chief, was the producer Lindsay Kemp, who, given his expertise, personal passion for the subject and the period’s music, his huge erudition and scholarship and his engagement with the routes and towns of the walk, must be one of the world’s leading experts in this time and these places of Bach’s life. I doubt I would have made much of a fist of it without Lindsay’s help, prompting and ideas. I am not a musician: Richard is an astonishingly accomplished one; Lindsay one of that tiny corps, whom I had never met before – Radio 3 music producers. It was like walking with the SAS of music, history and technology. Sometimes I felt Bach’s presence alongside us, listening to the jokes and the speculation, and laughing when Lindsay got us lost.

PC: Do you think that the landscape has changed much in the years since Bach walked it and you followed?

HC: In its contours barely at all. The shapes of the Harz mountains must be the same, and the long horizons, and the low heaves and undulations of what are now great agribusiness fields were all there in J.S. Bach’s time, much more wooded. The wide forests and deep woodlands he saw we saw in fragments. We found maturing oak trees he almost certainly walked under. But his landscape, in the long aftermath of the 30 years war, had been depopulated by conflict and plague, the woods less managed and engaged with than they had been (than they needed to be, for the locals’ sake); it was a constellation of Duchies and outposts both splintered and twinkling, the late afternoon of the Holy Roman Empire. This was 1705. A century later comes Napoleon and everything is changed. And of course we have done away with a lot of the hedges and whacked up a great many mighty wind turbines. The programme you really want to hear and read about is J.S. Bach’s walk in our footsteps in 2019! I think he would have been delighted, amazed and a little terrified.

PC: How different is the German countryside to the British countryside?

HC: In its small parts, the kind of ten square mile lens of land you can see and feel when you walk, very similar. There are surely parts of Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, Rutland and even South Wales you could pull together to replicate Bach’s terrain. But the great beech woods, the sandy soils, the very high wide skies, the relative absence of aeroplanes and, on our route, large roads (or rather the ease with which you can escape roads and their noise) is quite different there. Germany is the America of Europe. Although Britain has a lot more birds species, Germany is much, much bigger. You can feel the space everywhere and see it: back gardens, rooms, the gaps between towns are all bigger. I do love Germany.

PC: Winter is obviously your toughest season, but what season do you look forward to the most?

HC: Oh great question! Thank you! Well, mum says however you feel about any of them you always find you are ready for the next season when it comes. I get that, though she is such an observer and so sewn into the rhythms of nature that she sees changes and onsets before anyone except her neighbours – all sheep farmers. I adore September and October. The Ethiopians, on the Julian calendar, have an extra month, Pagume, between August and September. The Little Summer of St Martin, where we are now (Nov 11), Indian summer, the festive period at the start of November (All Souls and the Days of the Dead) are all intoxicating times – such colours, such smells. The merry month of May is my other particular favourite. Shakespeare has a line about the uncertain glories of an April day – by May they are brightening into certainty, and I love them. But really, the truth is, just give me eternal summer…

PC: Do you have the same deep-rooted fear of this approaching winter that you had last time?

HC: No. I have a prickle of furtive apprehension, but I am not dwelling on it. Staying busy really helps.

PC: More importantly, do you have the treatments that will help you now?

HC: This sort of conversation is amazingly helpful. The book has put me in a position of quiet but public therapy – I am having many DM conversations and tweeted exchanges with people who are around the same place, or in much harder places than I am. It’s deeply moving and certainly very therapeutic. Helping each other humans can get through anything, as we know. But yes, I am taking vitamin B complex daily; I am consciously running hard for trains, carrying bags, knowing I need to keep exercise going. I am eating a lot more vegan and vegetarian food – I don’t know if it helps, but I like it, and oily fish and omega threes will be the next thing. And vitamin D is my secret weapon. Not deployed yet, but soon. Also a friend showed me a lamp that you can switch to a bright lightbox type lamp – not expensive at John Lewis, he said, so I am thinking about that…

PC: What advice would give to those facing similar demons as you this winter approaches?

HC: Everything I outline above is thought to help – statistically, it does work. Alongside that you may need counselling. The NHS can help but they need a long lead time. They would much rather you booked in now for Feb/March (when you might really need it) than turn up then, feeling suicidal, and be told the wait was six weeks.

PC: Can you suggest ways of using the natural world that others can try in beating Seasonal Affected Disorder?

HC: Get a good coat, good shoes, or whatever you use in winter, defo a soft scarf, and something for your head – hat, hood, bandana. Don’t put everything on at the start, necessarily. The Royal Marines, going for a yomp, say ‘start cold’ (you’re going to warm up) and however horrid it looks out there, get into it, every day, a mile or even half a mile (I am very lazy). Go slow enough that you don’t miss a bird or a squirrel. Spot things. Look at the clouds – how many different skies the British horizons can incorporate at once, when the weather is changeable. You will feel better – physically immediately, mentally soon, even if not for long. It works.

PC: As Matt Haig says, we need people who we are near to who are totally non-judgemental. Apart from Rebecca, do you have others that you can turn to at your most vulnerable times?

HC: I am 45. I have a dumb phone – smartphones are the enemy of happiness – and a laptop. In all of my decades I have made friends I can turn to, but when the walls come in there are certain people – on our street, in town (Hebden) in London, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Liverpool and online (one, Kartika Panwar, I have never actually met) who I can always, always talk to. I thank God for them.

PC: Do you have a location near where you live that you can go to in your darkest moments that brings peace?

HC: Anywhere on the moors is terrific, whatever the weather. The Packhorse (formerly The Ridge, opened in 1610) up by Widdop reservoir and Walshaw Moor is a banker. The road over Blackstone Edge is wonderful (my mum says the landscape there looks like a section of the border between Iran and Turkey! And she should know) and anywhere and everywhere in Wales, my heart’s home.

PC: How does that particular place help you?

HC: Well the obvious place is the Cwmdu valley, where I come from. It reminds me that I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world, that it will always be part of me, and if I have the luck to be buried there, then I will always be part of it. Unfortunately, I am a travel writer, so burial at sea, consumption by hippopotamus or scattered through a plane-wreck are all possibilities, but we live in hope.

PC: Has the process of writing this book helped in the healing process?

HC: Hugely. In more ways than I can say.

PC: How are you health wise now?

HC: For a smoker and a drinker, absolutely tip-top! Thank you for asking. I am running around a lot at the moment, which is terrific. I rarely if ever get depressed in Wales because I help with the farm. If you’re in action you’re less in your own head.

PC: You have written all sorts of different genres of books, but what genre do you prefer writing in?

HC: Travel is hard to beat, but I love dialogue and character, and jokes above all, so when a children’s book is going well that’s a hard feeling to beat.

PC: Is the editing process different with Little Toller and Elliot & Thompson?

HC: Not really.

PC: Did you write both books together, or were they written at different times?

HC: They are a series of two, Bach recording a week of last autumn and The Light in the Dark the months before and after. I wrote them more or less at the same time.

PC: Do you have a favourite place to write?

HC: No! I am sitting on the concourse at Manchester Piccadilly as I write this – a good bench and lots going on around me. It really doesn’t matter – though my absolute favourite is in the back of a Land Cruiser, stopped, ideally somewhere like Madagascar, waiting for a ferry or the tide to fall – and you’re writing in a good notebook with a friendly pen. That rocks.

PC: Do you have another book (or should I perhaps say books) in the pipeline?

HC: Three. A children’s book, Aubrey and the Terrible Spiders, third of a trilogy. A book of monologues by figures from the myth and history of Pembrokeshire castles, and a big bang of a travel book, which I am not going to tell you about!

PC: Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?

HC: A.A. Gill, Jan Morris. Zadie Smith. Auden. Macneice, Gunn, Coleridge, Shelley, Dylan and R S Thomas, Niall Griffiths, Rob the Macfarlane, Sarah Hall – god, she’s amazing – Joan Didion. I could go on… and on…

PC: If you were to recommend three books, what would they be?

HC: A.A. Gill is Away by A.A. Gill, Quite Early One Morning: Radio Scripts by Dylan Thomas and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.

PC: What book are you currently reading?

HC: Battleship Yamato: Of War, Beauty and Irony by Jan Morris.

This interview was first published on the NB Magazine website

October 2019 TBR

Thirty days hath September. And there they were gone! Did fairly well on the TBR from September, reading 14 from the list. I just keep getting library books that others have reserved bumped up the list. Didn’t get all of the books on that list read, so these have been carried over in the (vain) hope of reading them this month. For some reason, I am really behind on my reviews too. Aiming to get back on top of that this month. Anyway, these are the books I am intending on reading. Possibly over-ambitious but some of these are really short…

Blog Tours

Ring the Hil – Tom Cox

Effin’ Birds – Aaron Reynolds



Lowborn – Kerry Hudson

The Making Of Poetry – Adam Nicolson

Who Owns England? – Guy Shrubsole

The Missing Lynx – Ross Barnet

Of Walking in Ice – Werner Herzog

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

The Edge Of The World – Michael Pye

Clearing the Air – Tim Smedley

Infinite Powers – Steven Strogatz

Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez


Review Books

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novrik

Stealing With The Eyes – Will Buckingham

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Chasing the Ghost – Peter Marren

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry – Fred Pearce

Wintering – Stephen Rutt

So it Goes – Nicolas Bouvier

Stillicide – Cynan Jones

Salvation Lost – Peter F. Hamilton

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

The Three Dimensions of Freedom – Billy Bragg

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

Tempest: An Anthology Edited by Anna Vaught & Anna Johnson

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman



Two left to go on this, though as I type this, summer seems to have completely buggered off now.

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce


Own Books / Wishful thinking

Three Poems – Hannah Robinson

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee – P. D. Murphy

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure – Alastair Humphreys

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days – Clare Fuller

August 2019 Review

Was dreading August as I had two daughters getting exam results… Turns out they did really well, and are moving onto their next things with A levels and an apprenticeship. Spent a week in Jersey, as we do every year, and had a really good time. Didn’t get as much read as I had hoped as we seemed to be busy there every single day and I had to socialise… I did manage to read two books in two days though which helps keep the totals for the Good Reads challenge up.

It was a reasonable month for books too, managed to read 16 books, but not as much variety as last month, however, I had three books that I awarded five stars to this month. More on that a little later.

First up is a memoir called The Chronology Of Water by the author of The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch. This is her memoir of a troubled early life and how she overcome abuse, drugs and alcohol to become the person she is now. It has an unusual writing style, with short punchy sentences and chapters. You have to be pretty broadminded when reading this too, it is quite some book.

Really liked Erling Kagge’s book on silence, so when I realise that the library has his new book, Walking: One Step At A Time, I reserved it straight away. I really like his writing style and philosophical outlook on life and thoroughly enjoyed this little book.


Two natural history books this month, first was The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Ruttabout his passion for the seabirds that inhabit our coasts and islands. Really nicely written. The second is an extracted book from The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis. Located just north of me in Cranborne it describes his time spent clearing an ash wood with his axe and billhook and his observations of the woodland life.


Two poetry books this month instead of one. The new Simon Armitage was reserved by someone else so ended up reading that one too. I liked both of them but connected to Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic more than Human Chain. This is the first Seamus Heaney book I have read and have others of his to read at some point.

This is not Hannah Critchlow’s first book, that was a little Ladybird science one I read a while back. The Science Of Fate is looking at how we are not free to shape our own ‘destiny’, rather our futures are determined by our genetic makeup and past family histories. Made for an interesting read.


I ended up reading a pile of travel books this month too. I have only read Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy in the past but had picked Between River and Sea up in the library as it is an Eland Book and I am trying to read (and collect) all their books. In this, she spends a lot of time with the people of Palestine trying to understand just how difficult their lives are as they try to move around their country. In Just Another Mountain, Sarah Jane Douglas tells her story in the context of climbing Monroes and other mountains around the world. It is tragic and heartwarming at the same time. For Love & Money is the fourth Jonathan Raban book that I have trad. It is not all travel writing, that is the final part of the book, but mostly concerns him earning a living from writing.


Peter Owen Jones’ real job is a vicar in the Sussex Weald, but he enjoys the outdoor life. This is a series of walks that he has compiled to allow someone to ascend the same vertical height as Everest in just 12 Days without having to leave the shores of this country nor risk life and limb climbing in the Himilayas. David Roberts is a man who has climbed countless mountains and after being diagnosed with cancer realised that he had to take it easier. Limits of the Known is about looking back over his own adventures, asking why others have had the same drive as him and meeting with other adventurers who tell their stories. On the Road to Babadag is about travels in a part of Europe that very few write about and even fewer read about. Andrzej Stasiuk where possible trys to avoid cities and likes to find places that very few seek out. Surreal at times and equally fascinating.


I have three books of the month for August and they are Hunting Mister Heartbreak by Jonathan Raban, Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents and Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy. All brilliant for entirely different reasons, Raban because he writes about America so well, Goldsworthy because he is my favourite artist and Pratchett, well because he’s Pratchett.

September 2019 TBR

August flew by.  So it is TBR time once again. I ended up reading eleven books from the August TBR, things got shuffled around as some of the library books that I had got reserved by others and had to be read and returned. As usual, I have an equally ambitious list for September and they are below:


Blog Tour:

Only one for this month and it is this one from Unbound:

Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald


Library Books

The Landscape by Don McCullin

How To See Nature by Paul Evans

The Hen Harrier         by Donald Watson

Epitaph for the Ash: in search of recovery and renewal by Lisa Samson

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway: A Year Of Gardening And (Wild)Life by Kate Bradbury

The Edge Of The World: A Cultural History Of The North Sea And The Transformation Of Europe by Michael Pye

Most of the Royal Society Shortlist that I could get from the library

The Remarkable Life Of The Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface by Monty Lyman

Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World by John Gribbin

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez



Not going to finish by tomorrow… However, summer finishes around the 21st September so will carry on with these until then.

Still Water: Reflections on the Deep Life of the Pond by John Lewis-Stempel

White Mountain: Real And Imagined Journeys In The Himalayas by Robert Twigger

A Raindrop in the Ocean: The Extraordinary Life of a Global Adventurer by Michael Dobbs-Higginson

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce


Review Books

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie ( I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this)

Vickery’s Folk Flora: An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants by Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

Tempest: An Anthology Edited by Anna Vaught & Anna Johnson

The Many Lives of Carbon by Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River by Oliver Rackham


Wishful Thinking

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee by P. D. Murphy

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure by Alastair Humphreys

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days by Clare Fuller



July 2019 Review

July came and went. We had a fantastic week in Sicily and were rewarded with sunsets like this

Didn’t get quite as much read as I wanted, the story of my life, but did read 17 books in the end and I think that they were as varied as ever

Unusually I read four fiction this month. I have read all of Ben Aaronovitch’s books. and The October Man is his latest novella. Set in Germany, this book introduces some new characters and a new magical challenge. I was recommended The Stolen Bicycle by the author Jessica J. Lee. This book by Ming-Yi Wu is about man who is looking for traces of his father after he disappeared two decades ago.  Whilst in Sicily I read one of Norman Lewis’ fiction books, The March of the Long Shadows. didn’t think that it was as good as his non-fiction, but he did capture the atmosphere of the island very well. The final fiction book was Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. I have read Backroom Boys by him a few years ago, so was looking forward to this and it was quite a romp around a very early New York.


I haven’t seen the tv series, but the book about Chernobyl is a fascination account about the worst nuclear accident so far. Serhii Plokhy has had access to the archives and in here reveals just how close we got to it being far worse than it already was.

Paul Kingsnorth has been an environmental writer for years and he hopes that moving to Ireland on a small plot of land will help him to find a purpose. He enjoys the work but he realises that the tools that made him a writer have begun to ebb away. Savage Gods is his musings on the loos of words and how he sought them out again. I have read Mike Parker’s books on maps and this was recommended to me by Jon Woolcot of Little Toller. On The Red Hill is the story of being gay in rural Wales seen from his life and his partner, Preds and from the perspective of Reg and George who were a couple when it was still illegal. A multi-layered book of life, love and landscape.


Another recommendation from the people over at Caught at the River was The Lark Ascending by Richard King. In this book he looks at the interwoven links between the music we create and listen to and the landscape around us. It takes us from the classical Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams to the modern rave scene.

I read two Poetry books this month. First was The Girl Aquarium a new collection by Jen Campbell. There were some that I liked in this, and there were some that I struggled to elicit meaning from. Karl Tearney’s new collection, Second Life is rooted deep in the PTSD that he suffers from. It is much more black and white and very raw at times.


I read a lot of travel books this month! Mike Carter is another author who I have read all his previous books and this new one was kindly sent by Faber. In All Together Now, he repeats the walk that his father took from Liverpool to London in 1981 as a protest about the lack of jobs in the north. As he walks he takes the political pulse of the country as we were about to vote in the 2016 referendum. Around the same time that this walk was taking place, Jonathan Raban was sailing around the coast of the UK. His brilliant writing cuts through the political noise around the Falklands War and the miner’s strike that was taking place at the time. Emma Bamford is also on a boat and her travels take her from America to the Carribean and around Malaysia. it also forces her to reconsider her priorities as she contemplates the stressful job she has in London.


As we were going to Sicily, I had collected all the books on the island that I had. I had read and loved, Mary Taylor Simeti’s book, On Persophy’s Island years ago and found Bitter Almonds in a charity shop. This is the stories and recipes that she collected from Maria Grammatico who grew up in a convent and learnt to cook the most amazing pastries. I have read a couple of Norman Lewis ‘ books before, and Eland kindly sent me this. Sicily was an island that he loved, he married the daughter of a mafioso and spent a lot of time there. He is travelling around the island, catching up with old friends and familiar places. Quite a wonderful book from a wonderful writer. Matthew Fort is also travelling around Sicily on a scarlet red Vespa in his book, Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons. He is not really there for the culture, though it is inescapable on this island, but is there to discover the delicious foods from locals. A book that makes you very, very hungry. Horatio Clare is another fan of the place and he has curated a select set of writings about the island in Sicily: Through the Writers’ Eyes. A really enjoyable book, and we even made it to one of the places mentioned in the book.



I had two books of the month in July, All Together Now? and Savage Gods and would recommend that you read them if you had a chance.

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