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 (http://www.mainstreetbooks.co.uk). 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: http://www.mainstreetbooks.co.uk/public/ourstory/content/countrylivinginfo.pdf

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.