As part of our on-going celebrations of TWENTY FIVE YEARS in the High Street, as today's date is 25th, I shall be giving away a £25 Wenlock Books Book Token today - come and be lucky!!
Our 25th customer today was Lyndsay Pearson with her 4 year old daughter, Alice (who was very excited - photo to follow!)
(And the yellow window has brought the sun out!)
Lyndsay is pictured here with daughter Alice.
Hearth and home! The wood-burning stove was blazing merrily as we all arrived from our various starting points - Stourbridge; Ludlow; Bridgnorth; Shrewsbury and Clungunford. Carole had made a delicious soup - leek, potato and celery, with Allen's home-made bread, followed by a lentil flan - wow! What a lunch!
Within minutes of being here those of us who had been before felt as though we had never been away, and our two new 'Retreaters' felt completely at home too.
We settled down to a quiet afternoon: Mary in the barn, Sue, Sue and Liz in the Pink House across the field; Mum, Liz and I in the sitting room. Tea with home-made lemon drizzle cake at 4 o'clock, followed by more quiet reading, writing, knitting as it took our fancy.
The barn from outside
The barn interior
At about 6, we began to gather in the sitting room for our pre-dinner drinks, joined by the marvellous Welsh bard, Menna Elfyn. Chatting over drinks we learn that Menna has recently been in Russia, India, New York ... is working on an oratorio to be performed by the Welsh National Opera; that her work is being translated into Hindi; that she looks after her 18 month old grand-daughter on Wednesdays; that she has recently completed a body of work called Field Notes - a collaborative work with an artist - that poetry is alive and kicking in Llandysul and around the world!
From the Bloodaxe website:
Menna Elfyn is the best-known, most travelled and most translated of all Welsh-language poets. The extraordinary international range of her subjects, breathtaking inventiveness and generosity of vision place her among Europe’s leading poets. Murmur is her first new book since Perfect Blemish: New & Selected Poems / Perffaith Nam: Dau Ddetholiad & Cherddi Newydd 1995-2007, and includes translations of poems by Welsh folk hero and poet of peace Waldo Williams (1901-71) which challenge the notion of the Celtic melancholy and testify to a ‘hesitant hope’. Her own poems have facing English translations by leading Welsh poets: Elin ap Hywel, Joseph Clancy, Gillian Clarke, Damian Walford Davies and Paul Henry.
'Menna Elfyn is the firebird of the Welsh language, bright, indomitably modern and as undestructible as the phoenix. She gives hope to all writers in lesser spoken languages that great things can rise from the ashes' – Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
'Elfyn is a poet of healing…both compassionate and celebratory. Like a soul doctor she questions and probes, like St Teresa she endures the darkness, but in the end she sings a song which affirms that flawed humanity is indeed perfectible’ – Katie Gramich, Planet
'Liberation and enclosure are powerful themes in Menna Elfyn's work. She is a political poet, writing with passion of the Welsh language and identity for which she campaigns. But she makes her claims with realism…a restless, intensely responsive imagination’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer
Talk over supper ranges from poetry to cats; from Shakespeare to the 21st Century book industry; from Wenlock Poetry Festival back to cats again. Much laughter. Wine. Blackcurrant pudding (from the garden).
After supper Menna delights us by reading from her new, not-yet-published book: Murmur - coming out in September from Bloodaxe. The poems are moving, funny, lyrical, heart-breaking and powerful. She reads them beautifully, in English and in her native Welsh (she always writes in Welsh and has other poets - Gillian Clarke, for example - translate them into English.) We ponder the difference between pleading/begging/imploring. We ask her to read some of her poems twice through so that we can really hear them with our hearts as well as our minds. We listen to differences. We feel truly blessed.
This morning after our delicious breakfast (home-grown rhubarb, home-made marmalade, home-collected honey, home-made bread etc etc) we read the first of our short stories.
This retreat grew out of a desire to read short stories in the way you might eat really, really rich chocolate - a little bit at a time! We had been talking at one of our Reading Days about how short stories need to be read, then left to 'settle', enjoying just one a day perhaps, rather than working through a whole collection in the way one would read a novel. The idea of having a retreat that actually prioritised short stories just seemed perfect. So what we do, is read (aloud, usually me) a short story after breakfast. Then we walk - today in blustery, misty, slightly rainy weather - along the beach, or coastal path, or the nearby Preseli Hills, coming back to Broniwan in time for lunch. Today's lunch was a gorgeous spicy soup followed by another of Carole's wonderful quiches with salad and (Allen's home-made) bread. All of our stories this year are taken from the Self Help section of Collected Poems by Lorrie Moore. This morning's story is just called How and is about the disintegration of a relationship. More to follow after this evening's discussion.
It's after lunch now and we are all scattered around the house and barn doing our quiet activities - more knitting, reading and writing poetry, blogging (me!) ... enjoying being in company without the distractions of chatter or busy-ness. In a little while Carole will serve afternoon tea in the dining room, with views over the lake and fields, the distant hills disappearing in the cloud.
I'm reading the poetry entries for the Wenlock Poetry Festival competition, and also dipping into David Whyte's wonderful, soulful book The Heart Aroused (see him at our festival this year) about the need to live with -
... one foot planted solidly in the light-filled world,
the other desperately looking for purchase in the
At the same time I've just started Daniel Pennac's (author of the much-loved Rights of the Reader) School Blues which I've been wanting to read for a while. I love the feeling of having lots of books on-the-go at the same time; picking up one for an hour or so, then turning to something else. I know that at some indefinable and unpredictable point one book will suddenly take precedence over all the others and I will be unable to put it down (how I love that moment!) but until then I am happy dipping in and out. A Reader's Retreat is simply heaven for me - complete with wonderful food and really good company and conversation morning and evening: what bliss this is.
After another lovely supper - delicious red bean chilli with a fragrant rice and the best cabbage ever (sautéed in strips with broken spaghetti, spring onions and lemon juice - mmm!) followed by perfect meringues with plums - we had our discussion of the short story we read earlier in the day. How by Lorrie Moore is the story of a marriage and its decline and eventual dissolution. Told in the style of a self-help manual, as would have been fashionable in the 80's this is a spare, seemingly didactic set of instructions on how to end your marriage. Looking more closely though, a different story is revealed; of two characters, male and female, meeting and trying to build a life together with hugely different needs and expecations - often unrecognised by either of them. The man is clearly trying to please his family by finding a nice girl to marry and raise a family, 'a neat nest of human bowls'. She is more ambivalent, tries to keep some independence - doesn't want the same thing at all. An agonisingly painful period of adjustment follows as the husband tries to shape himself to suit her, while she criticises him in order for her to find a good excuse for leaving. 'A week, a month, a year ...' is a constant refrain as time passes by without either one finding any sustained happiness. Eventually the husband becomes ill, which further delays her ability to walk away, until such time comes when she simply has to go.
The writing is deceptively simple. Beneath the surface layer of short sentences and brief paragraphs roils the murky and complex life of a couple in pain. We feel sympathy for both, and neither; we regret with them the futility of wasted time, and we feel some sense of relief and release when the marriage eventually ends. Images of the couple 'next to each other, silent, stiff, silvery-white in bed. ... like sewing needles' are disturbingly powerful.
Thoughts of leaving will move in. Bivouac throughout the living room; they will have eyes like rodents and peer out at you from under the sofa, in the dark, from under the sink, luminous glass beads positioned in twos. The houseplants will appear to have chosen sides. Some will thrust stems at you like angry limbs. They will seem to caw like crows. Others will simply sag.
This morning we read our second Lorrie Moore short story - What is Seized, followed by a brisk and blowy walk on nearby Penbryn beach, with Fan and Cai, our resident border collies, enjoying chasing sticks and running wild and free! (Forgot to take camera!)
Lunch was again delicious - soup, bread, and a lovely rice and mung bean dish that was most unusual and absolutely lovely. Mum, Mary and I called on Ela, Carole's mother, after lunch for a quick catch up - and the afternoon has been spent as usual in quiet work/rest time. We don't all read or write - here's Mum doing what she loves best!
Now as the sun goes over the yard arm, we start to gather for our pre-dinner drinks by the fire, already mournful that we have only one full day left in this reader's paradise!
Supper this evening was spinach roulade with sautéed potatoes and a lovely tomato dish - colourful and delicious! Carole's cooking is very much her own invention - she never quite follows a recipe, always having an intuitive sense that if she adds a little of this or a smidge of that it will transform an ordinary dish into something memorable: dessert was apple crumble - but better than any apple crumble you may have ever had before! The apples were cooked with Broniwan honey which gave them a lovely, lovely taste - and the crumble was just perfectly crunchy and sweet. Served with Joe's Home-made Italian ice-cream - we're all eating too much. Conversation around the table feeds us too, and takes us all around the world and back again.
Breakfast this morning wonderful as always (I should mention that I get up an hour before breakfast each day and walk up the looooong hill at the back of the farm and back, in order to make room for yet more food!) and the sun came out as promised for the first time this week. Three of us took the dogs on a lovely walk around the farm, past the cow-shed, through the gorse and up 'Cardiac Hill', through the grave yard, past the derelict farm, along the track, along the lane and back to Broniwan. We walked for about an hour, enjoying the beautiful views across to the Preseli Hills, the wonderful sight of red kites wheeling above us and the feel of sun on our faces.
Lunch was a lemony leek and potato soup (divine) followed by spinach pancakes stuffed with penchneb, a Welsh dish of puréed root vegetables. After teas and coffee some of our group went to Aberaeron to visit the craft centre there, while the rest of us read, wrote and slept!
Allen has been to lead his reading group in Aberaeron this afternoon - an eight year old group, they are reading Trollope, The Way We Live, and he came back quite fired up by the exhilaration of talking books with like-minded people.
I have been reading more of David Whyte's marvellous The Heart Aroused, Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. Beautifully written, deep, insightful and soulful, this is about how poetry can help put soul back into the workplace - thereby saving the lives of its workers. I'm lucky (so lucky!) in that my daily work is also my daily love, but even so, this book is inspirational and resonates at a very deep level. I love it when reading one book leads to others - I am now on the lookout for the Burton Raffel translation of Beowulf, and must renew my acquaintance with Camille Paglia and am eager to re-read all of my Pablo Neruda! What a feast this is! Also a wonderful quote from Kafka is singing in my mind: "A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us."
David Whyte is appearing at the poetry festival (scroll down to 4pm!) where he will be doing a reading called Able for It -Shaping an Imaginative, Resilient Self through Poetry:
One of the powers of poetry is to establish
an inner imaginative discipline, which allows us to live a fiercer, more courageous, if simpler life at the centre of momentous events and besieging circumstances. In this way, we are able to create a more beautiful mind, to find a clearer focus, to work from a surer internal foundation than the one the media tries to establish for us, all the while cultivating a sense of humour and celebration that binds our independent selves into a larger community.
In this presentation, David Whyte will look at a body of poetry, his own and others, which looks at the ability of the imagination to create a robust, independent self that is equal to, if not larger than, the tenor or difficulty of the times.
Supper this evening was Chick Pea and Butternut Squash Tagine, served in an antique dish that belonged to Allen's mother in America and was shipped to the UK along with a giant moon which is now in the Natural History Museum - but that's another story! The tagine is of course delicious, with cinnamon, lemon, "a bit of this, a bit of that ... " Followed by a Welsh pudding that has something to do with Eirun's gooseberries?? (I didn't quite catch the Welsh)) and 'plank cooked' Welsh tarts - I need help with this one, Carole!
After supper, we go through to the sitting room where we have a mini book-sale of various classic editions that Allen no longer needs, followed by our discussion of How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes) by Lorrie Moore. The discussion is slightly rushed because we are anticipating our next event, but even so we enjoy again Lorrie Moore's acute observational skills; her inventiveness of form (this is a story told backwards, like unpeeling an orange) and her ability to say so much with so little. There were criticisms, but in the main our admiration for this writer grows, and most of us will probably go on to read her later stories.
Next though, Carole herself comes through to give us a poetry reading: some six years ago, for her MA in Creative Writing under the supervision of Menna Elfyn, Carole wrote a long sequence of poems about the Welsh princess, Nest. Based on meticulous research, Carole's poetry gives voice to this young woman's life in a way that has never been done before. Abducted, taken hostage, raped, married off, children taken from her - it is an incredible life, and one which has repercussions in Welsh and Irish history and culture to this day.
What makes Carole's work unique is that she uses empathy and imagination to bring Nest to life as a girl and a woman - not just accepting the crude facts of her eventful life, not just placing her as a footnote to kings and princes - but positioning her at the centre of her own life and truly making us feel and realise the hardships, sorrows and losses that she bore - as well as the loves and passions.
The poetry is beautifully realised, with wonderful images that are rooted in the Welsh landscape and livelihood that Carole knows so well (her home overlooks the Preseli Hills where Nest would have lived before her abduction). Carole uses a variety of poetic forms, including an ancient Welsh form that she reprises by literally unpicking the form syllable by syllable from old Welsh poems, but whatever form she uses, her own inspired language shines through to create a work of quite stunning beauty and originality. This sequence of poems was breathtakingly good and we felt honoured and privileged to hear them. (Next step is to get them published ... )
We talked late into the night.
A later start than usual, and a last reading and discussion of a story before brunch. We finished with How to be a Writer a wonderfully comic piece that we enjoyed very much, and that the writers in our group ruefully identified with.
Our final meal together - much quieter than usual as we begin to make the transition from this lovely literary week that we have enjoyed so much, back to the realities of our own everyday lives. We have had such an excellent retreat - thank you to all the participants who entered into the spirit of the retreat so wholeheartedly, and thank you to Carole and Allen (and to Helen for helping), whose generous and abundant sharing of their lovely home makes the perfect and only setting for this endeavour.
Till next time ...
Wenlock Books celebrates 25 years in the High Street!
Thank you to everyone who has brought in silver for our ‘silver collection’ – this is ongoing throughout the year so please do bring in any of those little 5ps you can do without and we will save them all up for Friends of Conakry Refugee School.
Other celebrations to be introduced as the year unfolds!
In the media
We’ve had a good showing in the national media since Christmas, with the Telegraph mentioning the “brilliant Wenlock Books”, the Guardian referring to us as “splendid” and the Independent calling us “one of the best” – all this is of course really useful free publicity and helps to bring people in: and don’t they love it when they get here!Author talk at the Pottery, Wednesday March 7th, 7pm £3
Our first author’s talk of the year is Philip Weeks, whose new book is “Make Yourself Better”. Whether you want to lose weight, increase your energy, address a long-standing ailment or just generally ‘feel better’ – Philip will inspire you to take action!
Philip is an engaging, informative presenter and is well known for his deep understanding and knowledge of ancient medicine, combined with a sense of humour and a down-to-earth practicality. During the evening there will be a chance for you to try some of Philip’s own brews of herbal and detox teas, plus other health-giving snacks and treats.
Tickets are £3 from the bookshop.
Our new website is now launched. The address remains the same, www.wenlockbooks.co.uk so do please take a look and let me know what you think.
World Book Day
As always we are happy to receive World Book Day tokens from all our local and visiting children so do please call in to choose either a World Book Day book (straight exchange for a token) or for them to have £1 off any book of their choice.Wenlock Poetry Festival
For the third year running our Poetry Festival will be held in the town over the weekend after Easter, this year April 13th, 14th and 15th. We have a really marvellous programme for you with a whole host of exciting events. In addition to our Poet Laureate; the National Poet of Wales and the Scottish Poet Makar, we also have great names like Jackie Kay, Daljit Nagra, Elaine Feinstein and many, many others giving poetry readings that will be among the best you could find anywhere in the country. We also have a range of talks – about Housman, about John Clare, about the importance of poetry in all our lives and, from the renowned playwright David Edgar, about poetry in plays. There will be workshops from David Whyte, Gillian Clarke, Ian Duhig and others. There is a lively and exciting programme of events for children – do please bring your children; they will love it!! There will also be a chance for children to do poetry work of their own with the wonderful Mandy Ross – a great favourite. Our venues this year include the Edge Arts Centre, the lovely Methodist Church, the Pottery, the Priory Hall and new for us this year, Wenlock Abbey, courtesy of Gabriella Drake and Louis de Wet, and the wonderful Upton Cressett Hall, courtesy of William Cash. I really can’t tell you how unmissable this festival will be, so do take a look at the programme, available from the bookshop or online at www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org and get your tickets before they are all gone! BOX OFFICE NOW OPEN in Barrow Street!
Looking forward to seeing you in the shop and at the festival – spring is coming – hurrah!
With all good wishes,
Thank you Sheila and Mike for the wonderful (as always!) hospitality - the log fire was roaring, candles on the table, gorgeous pottery cups and bowls in use: it was so lovely. (And thank you Mike for my 'travelling cup' - I love it!)
Thank you to everyone who came and made it such a good night, as always, it is the interaction with the audience that makes a night succeed; your engagement and enthusiam was marvellous - and I'm so glad you enjoyed the de-tox tea!
Philip's talk was lively, entertaining and instructional, here are some extremely random snippets:
- butter is good for you!!
- don't fry with oil - use butter or ghee, or other 'solid at room temperature' oil
- sweat often!
- don't use aluminium pans
- filter your water
- make juices
- drink whole milk - raw if possible, otherwise pasteurised from Jersey (not homogenised) - it's less fattening and better for you than semi-skimmed!
- eat food you could grow or make yourself - that doesn't mean you have to grow it or cook it yourself but it does mean it has to be real food
- if in doubt, think 'were they eating this in my grand-parent's day/or a hundred years ago!!)'
- buy local
- organic is GREAT for you
- lots and lots of today's illnesses are caused by inflammation - sugar & carbohydrate increases inflammation
Buy Phillip's book, 'Make Yourself Better', published by Jessica Kingsley from wenlockbooks.co.uk for £10 collected from Wenlock Books shop, or £12.75 delivered:
Treat yourself to a consultation with Philip at his clinic
Our next event at the Pottery is an evening with Philip Weeks - Philip is a leading expert on natural medicine and nutrition and is a master herbalist and acupuncturist. He is an engaging, informative presenter and is renowned for his deep understanding and knowledge of ancient medicine. He is well versed in Ayurvedic, Arabic, Chinese and Greek medicine and utilises these systems by making them relevant to today.
Philip sees patients in Hereford and in Harley Street from all around the world. He has conducted some 10,000 consultations since starting his practice 12 years ago. http://www.philipweeksclinic.co.uk/
Philip established his clinic after qualifying as a master herbalist in 1999. Whilst seeing patients in his home-town, Hereford, he also trained at the college of Integrated Chinese medicine in Reading and obtained his licentiate in acupuncture in 2005. He also trained with Dr Tan in treating pain with acupuncture. He also integrates Master Tong's approach which provides a very effective blend of techniques to optimise the effectiveness of his acupuncture treatments.
He has travelled to Eastern Europe, Germany, and India in search of holistic medical techniques. He has sources from around the globe where he collects unique medicinal ingredients.
Philip has recently had his first child. His interest in health for children has since grown as he's seen first hand how natural approaches to pregnancy and birth have aided his partner throughout the experience.
Make Yourself Better by Philip Weeks, published by Jessica Kingsley.
Applying his deep understanding of holistic medical traditions from both East and West, Philip guides the reader through the process of restoring the body’s well-being using a simple combination of natural techniques, diet and herbal medicines. A large part of the book is devoted to the importance of good nutrition and detoxification, with clear explanations of specific methods and general principles. The health benefits of activity and physical exercise are also explored, as are the effects of potentially harmful substances such as mercury, additives and plastics, and the simple steps that can be taken to avoid these. In the final chapter, Philip looks in a holistic way at specific difficulties we all face from time to time, such as anger, stress and grief, and at how to deal with these in order to achieve well-being on a mental, spiritual and emotional level.
Compassionate and realistic, Make Yourself Better will empower the reader to make more informed choices in their every-day lives, and in doing so achieve a greater level of health and vitality.
Philip combines his deep knowledge with a sense of humour and a down-to-earth practicality. During the evening there will be a chance for you to try some of Philip’s own brews of herbal and detox teas, plus other health-giving snacks and treats.
Tickets are £3 from the bookshop, venue: The Pottery - http://www.wenlockpottery.co.uk/
Wednesday 7th March, 7pm - do join us!
Perfect for 'staycations' - each weekend, and many weekdays too - just choose a favourite village, town or county - and find a garden to suit your taste. Many of the hosts serve delicious home-made refreshments and what fun it is for us home & garden-loving Brits to wander round other peoples' gardens!
What are your favourite yellow things? Sunshine; daffodils and custard (the real sort!) spring to mind - any others ... ?
I come from the Amazon generation, or perhaps even the post-Amazon generation: bookshops are perceived as either quaint (an elderly relative who makes a cup of tea for you to say thanks for visiting) or esoteric and intimidating (an elderly relative who throws a cup of tea at you because you've interrupted her research). During my Creative Writing MA, publishers and agents occupying various stations on the spectrum of smugness informed me that we're moving beyond the age of the printed book and into the age of the self-published work, instantly available for Kindle. Then again, those same publishers reckoned that stories about ghost zombies would be 'in' this year, along with stories about astronauts (presumably any zombie-ghost-rocket combination will be a sure-fire success).
And yet Kindle books are ephemeral in a way that printed books are not. All too often, they serve as examples of what Geoffrey Hill calls 'commodity English': mass-produced, bought, sold, forgotten. Of course, printed books can be forgotten too - my tasks at Wenlock Books included clearing dust from the top shelves, picking old books out for a January sale and realising that some had gone untouched for years. Even in a bookshop as frequently visited as this one, it's inevitable that a few books will slide into obscurity - but the long decline takes place over years or decades, whereas e-books have the unwanted capacity to vanish instantly, leaving no trace behind. No volunteer comes along to brush away the dust and restore them to a more prominent place on the virtual shelf.
In the prologue to 'God's Gift to Women', Don Paterson writes,
'The poem is a little church, remember,
you its congregation, I, its cantor...'
Sticking to religious analogies, the bookshop is perhaps a cathedral; Wenlock Books perhaps a friendly parish church. Much like churches, bookshops (and poems) contain spaces dedicated to the preservation of the past. Wandering among the shelves, it's hard not to feel the weight of previous lives, or the sense that, somewhere among the thousands of volumes, your thoughts will find mirrors. The further I go, the more I'm aware that others have preceded me every step of the way:
'...what there is to conquer
By strength or submission, has already been discovered,
Once or twice or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again...'
(Eliot in East Coker)
The fascination with the past (especially when combined with the cathedral analogy) suggests sterility, perhaps a fear of change, but bookshops are incredibly vibrant places. Each time you walk through the door, you see thousands of books, each of which you could potentially buy and begin reading within the next few minutes (obviously anyone with a student loan to pay back should take care to buy the books one at a time, and only on special occasions). Of those thousands, how many have the potential to challenge and change your assumptions, to lead you down unexpected paths, to shift the course of your life? Dozens? Hundreds?
A friend of mine once walked into our college library and opened a book at random. An October storm was raging outside, and he was lucky enough to be able to watch the waves swelling and bursting out at sea, to listen to the wind battering against the library windows and take in one of those black autumn skies that hangs so low you feel you could touch it. The book he picked was Shelley's Collected Poems, and the page he turned to was the first page of Ode to the West Wind. The book collided with his life and altered it irreparably: now he's a writer with four published novels behind him. It's incredible to think that, in this shop, there are books with a similar power to change career paths, political views, whole lives...
Over the last few days, I’ve realised that I’m a woefully inefficient shelf-stacker: I pause to read first chapters, compose impossibly long reading wish-lists and occasionally lose my grasp on the alphabet (more or less the same phenomenon you experience when you stare at a word for minutes on end and begin to wonder whether it’s really spelt that way). It’s been wonderful to be part of a shop where the owner makes time for every single customer, where I’m always encountering books I desperately want to read or have already read and half-forgotten. Orwell famously devoted an essay to his ideal pub, The Moon Under Water; had he undertaken a similar exercise on the theme of the ideal bookshop, it’s tempting to imagine that what he’d have ended up with would be something bearing an eerie resemblance to Wenlock Books (albeit with the name changed to something rather more ethereal).