New books – like buses – come in pairs
How do I get you interested? Start a long way away, with an amusing anecdote, from what I really want to say? You’d see through it. Anyway, there aren’t any recently: this last two years has had its bright spots, but the grey grimness of pandemic and its social and emotional effects has cast a glumness on so much. There isn’t much I could tell you about all that you don’t know already.
So, to the point: it’s spring. My leek seedlings are up, the bees have wintered very well, broad beans (Masterpiece Green Longpod, if you are interested) are beginning to show – even if the mice are burrowing down to some of the seeds. The hawthorns in the wood, the first to green up, have their first leaves which as kids we used to pick and eat, calling them ‘bread and cheese’ – the taste is pretty similar. AND my two new books are published, within three weeks of each other.
The first, Crossroad: A Pilgrimage of Unknowing, is about pilgrimage – some I did not know I was making at the time – about the past bearing on and working in the present, about all those choices we made which seemed so trivial at the time but which in their effects were like a boat changing course. It’s the first openly religious book I’ve written – that doesn’t however stop the comic always creeping in, for I’m convinced that laughter and joy are the serious business of Heaven and we get rumours of it here. The book closes with the most outrageous pun I have ever made, and I’m a past master at them. It’s had massive endorsements from Professor Jane Williams, Bishop Rowan’s wife, who called it ‘a delight’; from Eamon Duffy, who called me a ‘delightfully and witty garrulous guide’; and from Guy Hayward, the Chair of the British Pilgrimage Society, who called it ‘a wonderful book.’ I’ll be doing an interview next week on United Christian Radio. It’s published by Darton Longman and Todd at £20. But if you buy it from me direct at the same price, I’ll give £5 to the Ukraine Appeal. Just email me at email@example.com .
The other book came directly out of Covid’s arrival. Lockdown 1 coincided with one of the loveliest springs I can remember, and there was nowhere to go. The book, To Everything a Season: The View from the Fen, almost wrote itself during that time, and it was like having a holiday. I started to write it before I had any idea, or intention, that it might be a book. In fact, it remains simply what it originally was: a sort of diary cum commonplace book. It’s a collection of jottings, impressions, delights, some made decades ago, some just yesterday. So its structure is a sort of kaleidoscope of moments: like the weather, you have to put up with what comes. All of these jottings reflect my growing and deepening love affair with the countryside of England and its lore, its yearly, seasonal, daily changes, its infinite variety seen even in the dull little spot of earth to which coincidence brought my late first wife and me in our morning all those years ago, and where I’ve stayed till the nights draw in. (It turned out not to be that dull after all.)
I had three publishers keen to take it, and in the end chose the wonderful Ludlow firm of Merlin Unwin, who specialise in ‘countryside’ books, and they’ve done a lovely job. Watch out for reviews in The Field, Shooting and Conservation, Country Life and elsewhere. You can buy it here.
When two of his colleagues brought out the late William Shakespeare’s Comedies Histories and Tragedies in the First Folio, they made no bones about it in the preface ‘To the Great Variety of Readers’: ‘… the fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! It is now publique, & you wil stand for your priviledges wee know : to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies. Then, how odde soever your braines be, or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your six-pen’orth, your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, Buy. ‘
What author could not agree?