Friday Fun: Iconic Writers and Their Cats

Literary Hub recently had a feature on Four Iconic Writers and the Felines Who Loved Them. Needless to say, all four were male writers and Alessandra Asteriti responded to my RT of that article: ‘Is the assumption that all women love cats because you know ‘women’, or are there no iconic female writers, or what?’ So I decided to redress the balance with a few pictures of iconic women writers and their cats.

Colette favoured Chartreux cats and helped to revive interest in the decimated species after WW2, from thegreatcat.org
Barbara Pym, from The Awl.
Patricia Highsmith had cats throughout her life and her many house moves. Not just Siamese, if I understood correctly. From wwnorton on tumblr.
Ursula Le Guin with her friend, from Pinterest.
Tove Jansson favoured black cats and even took them on the island in summer, from mtv.fi
Muriel Spark, copyright Alan Riding for New York Times.

Incidentally, Muriel Spark has written one of the funniest and most accurate descriptions of the love between writers and cats in A Far Cry from Kensington. Thank you to Alessandra for reminding me of it:

…if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp… The cat will settle down and be serene with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will come to affect you… so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost…

Three years later the Brigadier sent me a copy of his war memoirs… On the jacket cover was a picture of himself at his desk with a large alley-cat sitting inscrutably beside the lamp. He had inscribed it ‘To Mrs Hawkins, without whose friendly advice these memoirs would never have been written – and thanks for introducing me to Grumpy.’ The book itself was exceedingly dull. But I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.’

Francoise Sagan never seemed to mind if her cat took a lively interest in her writing, from Le Narrateur.
Doris Lessing, from The Guardian.
PD James, yet another fan of black cats. From The Guardian.

Last but not least, although I failed to find a picture of her cats: Shirley Jackson always had six or more cats all of the same color—usually black, sometimes gray—and she happily allowed people to believe the cats were her familiars to enhance her witch-like reputation. The truth was at once funnier and sadder than that: her cats looked all the same so that her husband, who was short-sighted and not at all fond of cats, would not be able to tell exactly how many cats she had.

Book Haul April 2017: Making Up for Lost Time

For the first three months of the year, I was on a book-buying ban, loosely participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge on James Reads Books blog. I didn’t quite get to read that many from my TBR pile because a lot of ARCs came in for review, but by and large I managed to resist book buying temptations, with the exception of Lyon. However, since that was right on the last day of March, I consider that a success!

From griffith.edu.au

Since then, I may have succumbed *a little* to book splurges. I blame FictionFan for not bestowing her Queen of Willpower Medal on me! I blame Tony for sharing a picture on Twitter of his lovely Japanese novellas from Strangers Press, based at Norwich University. You too can get them here: Keshiki – New Voices from Japan. I also blame the other Tony for his rant about the Best Translated Book Award shortlist for ordering Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books). Neither of these two orders have arrived yet, so I can fool myself that there will still be room on the shelves for them.

However, when I tell you that the 25 vintage Penguin classics which I ordered from World of Rare Books are still patiently lined up by the desk, awaiting shelving, you will realise that I may have overdosed on books recently.

But how could I resist a special offer on the Penguins – a surprise bundle of 25 titles? It was mostly the orange fiction series (John Wyndham, Somerset Maugham, Nancy Mitford, Charlotte Bronte), but there were also a few greens (crime fiction by Christianna Brand, Holly Roth and Erle Stanley Gardner) and some unusual finds, such as Passages from Arabia Deserta, a sort of travelogue/anthropological study by Victorian travelling gentleman Charles M. Doughty; a biography of G. K. Chesterton by Maisie Ward;a strange little genre-straddling memoir by Richard Jefferies The Story of My Heart, which looks like a prose poem with wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes; two novels about the British Empire in India by now-forgotten novelist (and former colonel) John Masters; and a book by Peter Wildeblood Against the Law, ‘a first-hand account of what it means to be a homosexual and to be tried in a controversial case and imprisoned’, published in 1955.

The final two books I felt obliged to buy attracted me for different reasons. The first, Rumba Under Fire, edited by Irina Dumitrescu (Punctum Books), was because of its content. It is a collection of essays, poems, prose, interviews about what it means to do ‘art’ in times of crisis. Can art and intellectual work really function as a resistance to power? How do works created during times of extremes of human endurance fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity – can we even attempt to understand them from our privileged and comfy positions? There is quite broad geographical representations here: Bosnia, Romania, Congo, Turkey, Afghanistan, World War 2 concentration camps, India and Pakistan.

The collaboration between poet Derek Walcott and painter Peter Doig Morning, Paramin (Faber & Faber) is pure indulgence. Each double page spread features a poem and a painting, calling out to each other, answering and completing each other. The one to blame here is Melissa Beck, who reviewed this so magnificently on her blog.

While commenting on the review, we connected with Anthony Anaxagorou on Twitter, who asked if we would be interested in reviewing two books of poetry from Outspoken Press, which he promptly sent along. The first is To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus, the second Dogtooth by Fran Lock. You can expect to read reviews of both of these very soon.

Friday Fun: More Writers with Magnificent Homes

We can never get enough of the homes and workplaces which inspired famous writers, can we? Here are some truly enviable ones from all over the world.

Tennessee Williams stayed at this windmill on the Stony Brook campus and wrote a play. From Long Island Press.
Nietzche House in Sils Maria, Switzerland, from NietzcheGesellschaft.de
Rimbaud’s house in Harar, Ethiopia. After he gave up writing. Maybe he had a point, after all. From 3roadblog.wordpress.com
Gogol’s stately home in Moscow, from freefortourists.com
Tolstoy’s country estate Yasnaya Polyana, from Pinterest.
Gore Vidal’s legendary clifftop house on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. From Architectural Digest.
Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford House, on the Scottish Borders. From e-architect.com

 

Friday Fun: Writers’ Homes in the English-Speaking World

I’ve presented quite a few homes of writers and artists in France, but what about some homes for English-language writers in the US and UK? I don’t want to neglect Africa, Australia or New Zealand, so if you know of any noteworthy houses there, be sure to let me know in the comments section.

Evelyn Waugh certainly had plenty of inspiration for Brideshead, if this house is anything to judge by! From The Prose Blog.
Jack London’s study shows his passion for travelling, but also art. From QED.
It seems F.H. Burnett had some inspiration readily available for The Secret Garden or Little Lord Fauntleroy. From The Guardian.
Upton Sinclair’s home in California. From Pinterest.
Enid Blyton opted for the thatched cottage style. From Daily Mail.
As did Thomas Hardy. From Open Culture.
All right, this is in France again, but it’s James Baldwin hard at work in his St Paul de Vence study.

Finally, in this one you can actually stay overnight courtesy of AirBnB.

Steinbeck’s study in Pacific Grove, California. From AirBnB.

 

 

Friday Fun: What About Your Own Study?

It’s all fine and dandy to look at all those palaces and glorious home libraries or artists’ studios, but what does your own writing space look like? I am mildly obsessed with writer’s studies, as you might have gathered, and a couple of years back could not get enough of the Periscope #whereiwrite initiative. So, while this might not qualify as escapist, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours…

Busy? Maybe, but I like inspiration on my walls.
The bookshelves are starting to groan…
Map of Japan from 1745 (the original, not my print).
French dog and Japanese cat living in perfect harmony.
The messy side of the room and armchair filing system
Not quite outside the study window, but this camellia bush is one of the great delights of my garden.

And a special late addition for Lady Fancifull, who was disappointed at the lack of real cats… Here is Zoe in her favourite position when I am working at my desk.

WWW Wednesday 5th April

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

Currently reading:

Marcus Malte: Les harmoniques (not yet translated into English)

Vera has been murdered, burnt alive. Mister, the pianist, loved her, as much as she loved his music, so he needs to know who killed her and why. With his friend Bob, a philosophical, multilingual cab driver, he sets out to search, interrogate, sniff out bit by bit Vera’s earlier life, beyond some distant shore on the river Danube, to corpse-strewn Balkanic regions.

We met Marcus Malte in Lyon and he recommended this book as being the one where his love for music is most obvious. He has also created a concert around it, which you can listen to here.

Just finished:

Two books for review on Crime Fiction Lover (the reviews will be up very soon):

Lindsey Davis: The Third Nero (Hodder & Stoughton, coming out 6th April)

I used to love the Falco series set in Ancient Rome, but this is the first in the Flavia Albia series which I have read. You can’t help but see some political parallels to the present-day with a totalitarian, paranoid ruler and the fear of an Eastern Empire taking over…

Kjell Ola Dahl: Faithless, transl. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books, coming out 8th April)

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her—and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers—and the killer—before he strikes again.

Reading Next

Fiona Melrose: Midwinter

Father and Son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, are men of the land. Suffolk farmers. Times are hard and they struggle to sustain their property, their livelihood and their heritage in the face of competition from big business.
But an even bigger, more brutal fight is brewing: a fight between each other, about the horrible death of Cecelia, beloved wife and mother, in Zambia ten years earlier. A past they have both refused to confront until now.

Bogdan Teodorescu: Spada (not yet translated into English, transl. in French by Jean-Louis Courriol)

A little tramp is found with his throat slit in the streets of Bucharest. A second and a third victim are assassinated with the same deadly weapon and it becomes clear that there is a serial killer on the loose in the Romanian capital. His victims all have two things in common: they are Roma (gypsies) and all have a criminal record. A powerful political thriller, indictment of mass media, political parties and slogans, this is a true Balkanic Borgen.

Have you read any of these or do any of them tempt you?

Friday Fun: Artists’ Studios Can Inspire Writers Too

Artists may require more space and light than writers, but there’s nothing wrong with craving one of their studios for our writerly craft, is there? Although there might be a few too many distractions around to touch, seize, examine…

Masako Miki’s studio, from thestudiowork.blogspot.com
Lotta Ieminen’s studio, from designsponge.com
The atelier of Caroline and Michael Ventura, from freundevonfreunden.com
Casey Neistat’s colourful mix of a studio, from Wired.com
A tidier, sleeker (more corporate?) version, from Pinterest.
It’s the landscape for Carouschka Kastreijifert, picture credit Martin Lot.
This does look like an office, but I love that window! From eastatestudio.tumblr