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Through the Keyhole
Category: Writing
Tags: Literary houses reading early memories Country houses mansions country estates in literature

I recently got back from a home-exchange holiday in Shropshire. We stayed in a family home at the foot of the magnificent, Caer Caradoc. A tortoiseshell cat, a goldfish and a flock of chickens were our charges for ten days. Staying in someone else's house is a very personal experience. A casual look through kitchen and book cupboards reveals the family's class, level of education, political persuasions, eating habits and which shops they patronise. It just turns out that most home-exchangers are middle-class, well-educated, and have theoretical leanings to the left. Not unsurprising considering it takes a certain democracy of spirit to share your home with people other than friends or family.

During my break in England I was invited to a Pony Club reunion at an old country estate called The Mynde, in Herefordshire. From the ages of six to fourteen my sister and I were keen members of the pony club and pony club camps were held at The Mynde every summer. The drive to the house is a mile long and an aristocratic residence has been on the site since the 13th century. It is still owned by a family with royal connections and was recently on the market for 15 million pounds. In pony club days the house was derelict, partially razed to the ground by fire. But its grounds are inextricably linked with halcyon days of childhood; swathes of emerald fields, gnarled oaks, swans on mirrored lakes and the sound of ponies hooves mingling with the smells of equine sweat, saddle-soaped leather and Bazooka Joe bubblegum from the tuck shop.

I love a deep-rooted sense of place and preferably a crumbling country mansion at the heart of a novel. When I moved to Holland I was homesick and often dreamed of that sun-dappled drive to The Mynde; a road that led to my 'land of lost content.' To assuage those feelings of not belonging I reread novels like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Wideacre (Phillippa Gregory's trilogy before The Boleyn Girl) and imagined that I was the homecoming heroine in the story. Novels in which the house is almost a character, not just a backdrop have always grabbed me and perhaps this can be traced back to my early experiences of The Mynde. Right now I'm reading Longbourn, by Jo Baker; Pride and Prejudice retold from the point of view of the servants. It introduces another aspect of the country house, the unseen toils of the servants. Downstairs folk paddling away like a swan's webbed feet, keeping up the calm, serene elegance of upstairs folk.

Often the crumbling mansion has sinister aspects too. Manderley was so interwoven with Rebecca's life it had to burn down so that the new Mrs De Winter could reign supreme. Eel Marsh House in The Woman in Black, reveals Alice Drablow's past and without the house we would know nothing of her tragic life. So maybe there's a ghost or two rattling about The Mynde and perhaps it's a little girl wearing elephant-ear Jods, galloping her Welsh Mountain pony towards the furthest edges of the demesne.

Are there any early experiences that have influenced your reading choices? Could you describe a character just by writing about their home? What is your favourite literary house?

This week on Writers Abroad 25 August 2014
Category: Site News

Happy news this week is that Marit has rejoined WA. Welcome back, Marit!

Meanwhile final touches to the WA magazine are ongoing and Wednesday is the deadline for any last minute comments or additions to be sent to Jo. Great news that Doreen has offered to take on the magazine in future.†

Muses this week are by Vanessa, on the theme of returning to work or school after holidays, something I'm sure we can all relate to at this time of year - and if not, there are some photos for alternative inspiration. Only two muses last week, so I'm sure lots of bottled up inspiration will apear this week!

Doreen is on for the blog which has just come in....

Yesterday we had our formal Skype meeting with 10 members more or less present - myself on the sidelines as usual, stunned at the speed at which mesages come in if you turn away for a few minutes. The minutes of the meeting are up and Jo, being ultra efficient as usual, has also updated the Planner until the end of the year.

Jill is warming the bragging stool with her second place in the Global Short Story competition. Good one, Jill!

Lots of challenges of all sorts, for writers and poets, so no excuses.. except in my own case where I fear the usual excuses will apply.

Have a lovely week


May I have a word...
Category: Writing
Tags: WA blog

May I have a wordÖ

I admit it. I suffer from Abibliophobia and Bibliobuli. Add in Tsundoku and you might think Iím pretty mixed up. But at least Iím not a Bibliolestes or a Bibliophtbor. And Iím sure none of us at WA have Logophobia or Metrophobia. To explain, Abibliophobia is the fear of being without books; Bibliobibuli describes someone who reads too much, while Tsundoku is the habit of buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves, floors or bedside tables. A Bibliolestes is a book ravager or destroyer; Logophobia is the fear of words and Metrophobia the fear of poetry.

Actually, I probably had a bit of the latter at school when force-fed Wordsworthís Prelude.

Words are our stock in trade, so I hope youíve discovered a few new ones that might even double as prompts for the Monday Muse. And what is totally amazeballs is the number of weird and wonderful words that have just made it into the dictionary. They range from Acquihire (buying out a company primarily for the skills and expertise of its staff), through Bro hug (a friendly embrace between two men) and Douchebaggery (obnoxious or contemptible behaviour) to Side boob (the side part of a womanís breast, as exposed by a revealing item of clothing).†††

Unlike the French, who frown at imports such as hash tag and weekend, and prefer to use half a dozen native words to describe something rather than one foreign one, the English language seems to embrace new words, whatever their provenance.

A touch of logophobia might creep in, though, when you learn that the longest scientific term in English is the full chemical name of the world's largest known protein, titin. Beginning with Methionyl... and ending with ...isoleucine, the word contains 189,819 letters.

The 45-letter word Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanocon is the longest English word that appears in a major dictionary. Itís apparently a lung disease. A prize for the first person to use it in a story! Officially, though, the longest word in the English language is Antidisestablishmentarianism, a mere 28 letters, which is the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England.†

Whatever happens, us logophiles will continue to love our words.

Now, as Iím also an Archeoeubibliologist, Iím off to finish Vanessaís novel. Oh yes, an Archeoeubibliologist is someone who likes good books.


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