A Map of the World was written by Jane Hamilton, not Jane Smiley.   She wrote A Thousand Acres.   I cannot find who wrote Fallen, but I do not think on  reflection it was Ian McEwan.   He wrote Atonement.



I am no longer the voracious read-everything-that-comes-before-me. I’ve-started-so-I’ll-finish gobbler of books that I was in earlier days. I tend to the view now that life is too short to waste time on things I’m not really enjoying, and so I’m very liable to give a book the heave-ho if I come upon a sticky patch.

I don’t want to read anything distressing so there’s a whole raft of subjets that I avoid. I don’t read about the holocaust, Northern Ireland, refugees, people trafficking, etc. This is very feeble and I don’t recommend it but I feel there’s enough difficulty in my life without taking any more on board.

I often read in the night when I can’t sleep and then your requirements are very specific. You want it to be interesting enough to pass the time, but basically you want it to send you to sleep. It needs to be technically smoothly written with no grammar, spelling or character defects of the author (snobbishness, for example, or if it’s a novel set in Regency times among the aristocracy, getting the etiquette or people’s titles wrong.) These defects will cause me to have a rant, which definitely wakes you up! So I read Georgette Heyer, P J Woodhouse, E F Benson, and some detective novels (but nothing too grisly.)

Then there’s some works that I re-read every ten years or so. These include all of Jane Austen, most of Anthony Trollope, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, J R R Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Raymond Chandler (for the metaphors.)

I have a category that I call Double Star, which means that I will read it very fast as usual, and then on finishing it I will immediately reread it more slowly. These include Birdsing by Sebastian Faulks; the Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst, Falling by Ian McEwan, A Map of he World by Jame Smiley.

My cousin in Canada, Sheena, has sent me a wonderful book called Love of Country by Madelaine Bunting about her fascination with the mythical North and a journey she undertook through the Outer Hebrides.

When we used to go to the South of France with the caravan, tents and 3 or five children if we took Darren and Kerri, my stepchildren, we thoroughly enjoyed the food, the wine and the stimulating conversation taking place as the sun went down, leaving the beach almost empty. But eventually we would tire of continual blue skies

I am normally quite confident about my writing. I am working on a small scale; doing a miniature, perhaps rather than the full scale portrait others can attempt more successfully. I believe people enjoy them. But sometimes you chance upon some piece that is accomplished with such style and elegance that it makes you wish you had written that, and that your work is shoddy in comparison. You think, What is the point? And you feel like laying down your pen.

NB My cousin and I have attachments to the North and we have undertaken tours of the Hebrides. Perhaps people who have not done these things would not find the book so easy to identify with.

The song in our hearts is still ‘North!’



It has been interesting to watch the unfolding saga of Prince Harry versus the press (a battle you would think his personal history would tell him he was likely to lose.)

I am not someone who has a great deal of natural sympathy for the royal family. I recall as a child of perhaps 5 or 6 being marched with my school class, complete with flags which had been issued to us, and being made to stand for a very long time until a large car drove past with two ladies in it. The one on the far side waved (the Queen Mother). I thought (but had the wit not to say), we waited all that time for that?

However, who could not feel compassion for Harry as a 13 year old boy when in the full glare of publicity he suffered the tragic loss of his mother; the axe mark of which damage will remain on his psyche all his life.

Whenever Diana was mentioned, William’s face would remain quite impassive, whereas Harry would shimmer with unresolved grief. (This is not necessarily good for William of course.)

Harry appears to be a nice fellow. (Perhaps he is rather too much like his mother.) He is charming, kind, encouraging… There is much to be said in his favour. However, he is now more mature and you would expect him to be able to form a more detached view about the death of his mother. Clearly he has not achieved a reasonable conclusion. It is not the case that every photographer and/or pressman is a wicked person. Some sections of the Press did not behave well over the death of Diana, but she herself was not blameless. She was being driven at high speed by an (allegedly) drunk driver and she wore no seatbelt. She had been manipulative and had tried to use the press for her own agenda. She was attention seeking, and certainly did not appear to be ready to retire into private life and devote herself to her children. These would be painful facts for him to contemplate and no-one would expect the boy prince to grapple with them, but by now you would expect him to have arrived at a more balanced conclusion.

There is also the fact that the advice his wife gives him about how to deal with the British is liable to be wrong. Americans tend to assume that Britain is like a smaller, poorer version of themselves, whereas we are altogether different. The Americans genuinely admire their rich and famous; whereas our attitude is altogether more sceptical and ambivalent.

In deciding to sue the Press, I would imagine that Harry has chosen to ignore royal family and government advice to the contrary. There are two institutions (there may be more)whom it is inadvisable to take on. These are the Press and the Police. You will lose.

Harry does not seem to realise the vulnerability of his position. We live in perilous times and the most the royal family would seem able to expect ( if indeed it survives Prince Charles) is a pared down monarchy, where there is just the Head of State and the heirs acknowledged as ‘royal’. At the present time they have heirs and to spare for three generations. Harry is not necessary to them.

I wish Prince Harry, as an individual, well, and his wife and child.

It is not always in people’s best interests to let everything hang out and to reveal all your woes amd travails. Sometimes the stiff upper lip has much to recommend it.



So we have before us the thrilling prospect of five weeks of campaigning for a General Election. Just what we wanted (I don’t think.) Look at the choices before us.

There’s the minor parties. Brexit never seem to do much in electoral terms but appear to be able to influence the result since if they post candidates they split the Tory vote, giving Labour an advantage. Voting for them is buying a pig in a poke. We don’t know who they are.

There’s the Greens, do-goody and no doubt with merit, but never particularly appealing.

There’s the National Parties for Scotland and Wales whom even I am beginning to find tiresome in that they can’t seem to rise above their one issue.

There’s the DUP, who were never going to agree to anything and it was naïve of Theresa May to waste time on them. I sometimes wonder if we offered Ulster to Eire as a present, whether they would accept it or decline on the grounds of it being too much bother. (Obviously, I jest).

Then we come to the Liberals with their presumptuous, garrulous leader. I don’t think they’re entitled to call themselves Liberal Democrats as the Wee Gnaff in charge of them declares they’re going to fight to remain with everything they’ve got. On what authority, I wonder?

Tthe Labour Party seems haunted by accusations of anti-semitism it appears unable to shake off, and though I think Jeremy Corbyn is a much more formidable opponent than he at first appears, some of their policies would raise your eyebrows at the very least. I would never endorse the sending of any child to boarding school, but people should have the right to educate their children (and spend their money) how they choose and the State should not asset strip such institutions for its own purposes. Smacks of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries.

Finally we come to the Tories themselves who are the cause of all our present woes. David Cameron did not think enough before he acted and his offering of a referendum on the issue of our EU membership has been catastrophic for British politics – and he did this solely to (as he supposed it would) call off the rabid dogs of anti European feeling that existed within his own party and had been the bane of every conservative Prime Minister of recent times.

None of them have been able to set aside party interests and act for the nation. It’s a mess in every possible respect and there’s no health in any of them.

I toyed with the idea of not voting. I don’t approve of the actions of any of them. But then I though that was feeble. They haven’t behaved well but we, the people, should continue to vote ethically and with conscience. (It is of course possible to do this and vote for different parties. We have to be respectful and tolerant of one another’s view.)

In the referendum I voted to remain. We all know now that the country voted to leave. If we were offered another referendum, I would again vote to remain. But we haven’t been offered another referendum, and therefore the first one still stands. As someone who believes in democracy, I believe we should support the referendum. I’m therefore going to vote for the party which in my view is most likely to be able to effect our leaving the EU (preferably with a deal and on reasonable terms with our neighbours.) So I’m going to reverse the habits of a lifetime and vote Tory. My ancestors will disown me.

The result is unpredictable but I would guess Boris will increase his majority but not significantly and parliament will still be hung.