Borders Book Festival

I was lucky enough to catch the last day of the Borders Book Festival in Melrose and what a treat it was! High summer had hit the Scottish Borders and it was a baking 30 degrees so the folks trying to sell local cheeses, cream and butter were doing a poor trade, and the ice cream was so sloppy the vendors couldn’t get it into the cone. The Harmony Gardens are just stunning, with old walls and old roses plus the backdrop of the ruined abbey and hills. Wandering around with an afrogato (with homemade ice cream) from Linton & Co.’s van, while my husband ate gooseberry and elderflower ice cream from Over Langshaw Farm’s van, I came across Ella Berthoud, author of The Novel Cure, giving prescriptions for therapeutic reading.

I went into her van for a laugh really–because I am an avid reader and eternal student of literature, I wondered what new authors she could reveal to me. Zinged on that one and pleasantly surprised, because she did give me some new reading ideas, and she is the most vibrant, interesting conversationalist. I asked how she was familiar with so many books and could pull up titles from her brain instantaneously (a miracle to me!) and she replied that she was a constant reader. Me too, but I don’t recall half of books I’ve read.

I told her that I was contemplating retiring from the day job but that I feared losing purpose in my life, there would be nothing to get up for etc. (The fact is that I am a lazy person who would like to lie around on a chaise-longue, reading or watching movies or both at the same time.) She recommended:

The Enigma of Arrival by V. S Naipaul

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller

Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

And, Ella suggested that I start reading aloud with my husband, the Engineer. We tried that once with Beowulf, because some works just beg to be read aloud. We’ve also had family read-alouds at Christmas of A Christmas Carol. The momentum never seems to continue but maybe I should give this practice another go. Ella does this with her husband and suggested:

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

I may have come up with an idea for a new book of prescriptions because I bewailed my lack of female role models and explained to her that I would like to read books by women, preferably about women’s lives and how they survive and remain sane. It wasn’t until after I completed my Master’s degree in Literature that I realized there so many women who had written and were writing and now I’m trying to wade through the clamour of their voices so I try to read mainly female authors. Thank you Virago and Persephone and other publishers of forgotten women’s writing. Nothing against male authors, especially the ones who are sensitive and empathetic to the women around them, but it’s time for me to look for those female role models in books. How about a Novel Cure for Women?

When I tore myself away from Ella Berthoud, there was the ticketed event talk by Carol Klein to attend. I don’t have a TV and travel frequently so I had never seen or heard her before, yet I recognized the Lancashire accent and down-to-earthness of a 70-something northern lass immediately and felt right at home. Calendar Girls revived! What a treat it was to hear her enthusing over flowers and plants in her cottage garden as she showed slides. The hour, which passed so quickly, took me back to my grandmother’s garden and her way of speaking; she taught me all I know about gardens. Hearing Carol’s enthusiasm and calling a spade a spade was therapy indeed and reminded me of my perfect role model: my grandmother, Jane Hargreaves Taylor, from Blackburn, Lancashire. I’ve now ordered Carol’s books, so more on gardening later…




Cousins by Salley Vickers

A very pleasing afternoon yesterday as a friend and I took a jaunt to a literary beacon in the Borders: The Mainstreet Trading Company in St. Boswell’s ( It was a perfect summer’s day driving through the lush green countryside and the pretty hamlets and town of Kelso and although we hadn’t been able to get tickets for the afternoon tea event with the author, we were optimistic. The lunch we had at Mainstreet was just delightful–so much so that I spent a fortune in the deli on cheeses and seeded oatcakes and oh! that damson paste! They make a darn good cup of coffee too. Well, after postponing our book pleasures by first savouring good food and drink (not to mention chatting with the friendly staff), we released ourselves into the bookstore and shopped and shopped.

Mainstreet Trading is the inspiration of Rosamund de la Hey (what a romantic name!) and you can read her story here. I’m not joking when I call it a beacon because, in the Borders, we don’t have many bookstores and literary events. You can read more about this shining light in the Country Living article:

Ros did not let us down and we got into the afternoon tea with Salley Vickers, who was delightful. I felt as though I knew her–maybe through reading three of her books. As a former psychoanalyst/psychotherapist she studied Jung and seems to find her way into her books by following synchronistic paths and signs. The first book I read of hers was Miss Garnet’s Angel and that made me fall in love with Venice all over again. I think there is a strong sense of place in her books as well as minutely detailed characters. The latest book Cousins is set in Northumberland so I can’t wait to read that. Vickers confessed to being fascinated with St. Cuthbert because of his love of nature, and with Holy Island, Lindisfarne. I’d always thought St. Cuthbert was even more misogynistic than most men of his time and had even placed a curse on his grave if any woman stepped over it, but she assured me that the monastic brothers had placed the curse and not the Saint himself. St. Cuthbert became associated with the late King Oswald of Northumbria, who was himself sanctified and whose head is interred with St. Cuthbert. If you’ve seen Bamburgh Castle towering above the coast and the famous causeway to Lindisfarne, you’ll know all these stories. When the haar comes in from the sea in these parts, it’s easy to imagine the prows of the Viking ships looming out of the mist and terrorizing the monks on the island. Interesting that Vickers, who lives in London, has ventured into our parts to write of Northumberland. Can’t wait to read Cousins and see if she evokes the same sense of place as in her other books.