You may be bored already of my sharing endless pictures of the mountains last week on Twitter. I had such a peaceful and happy time housesitting for a friend of mine in a village close to Vevey on Lac Leman in Switzerland. It was the first proper holiday in nearly a year and a half where I didn’t have to rush around, meet lots of people, fall sick or receive any bad news. I got to read, write, sleep, walk, eat cheese and chocolate and watch the latest season of Borgen. And cuddle up with two adorable pets.
At my best I’m an artist who’s a taut and febrile cultural weather vane, super-attuned to contexts, especially those of anxiety and decay. Tax exile in Switzerland ruined that. I thought I was big enough to see over the Alps, but it turned out I wasn’t.
David Bowie about his time in Switzerland
I can’t help wondering if he was subconsciously thinking of Emily Dickinson’s poem:
Our lives are Swiss— So still—so Cool— Till some odd afternoon The Alps neglect their Curtains And we look farther on!
Italy stands the other side! While like a guard between— The solemn Alps— The siren Alps Forever intervene!
I thought I’d offer you something a little different this week: a series of autumnal landscapes to inspire and delight us, but all of them in settings featured in the books we have published thus far at Corylus (because we do like to travel with our reading and crime fiction). Maybe even a few hints as to upcoming titles! N.B. Of course, autumn is not necessarily the season during which the action in each book takes place. Here we go, in order of publication:
In Anamaria Ionescu’s Zodiac, four murders take place in four different locations, with four strange and different marks on the victims – and the only thing they have in common is that all of them were born in the little spa town of Voineasa in the Romanian Sub-Carpathians.
2. Bucharest is the setting for Teodora Matei’s police procedural Living Candles featuring the unlikely duo of Anton Iordan and Sorin Matache – a city of dark shadows, wet pavements and damp basements.
3. Snagov Lake to the north of Bucharest is the place where many Romanian politicians have their villas, and where they conspire with the media to cover up the politically embarrassing story of a vigilante killer in Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu.
4. We first meet Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s police officer Guðgeir Fransson in The Fox, far away in exile in the picturesque but isolated settlement of Höfn on the east coast of Iceland.
5. Guðgeir is back in Reykjavik in the next book in the series, Silenced, in a tense story about appearances and reality, class and gender differences.
Iceland’s capital is also the setting for the forthcoming book Deceit by our new Icelandic author Jónína Leósdóttir.
6. Although the ‘port town in the west of France’ is never explicitly named in Jérôme Leroy’s clever novella Little Rebel, it might resemble Le Havre a little bit…
7. Some of the key conspiracy scenes in Bogdan Hrib’s spy thriller Resilience take place in Iasi in the north-east of Romania (close to the border with the Republic of Moldova).
8. Óskar Guðmundsson’s hard-hitting tale of trauma and revenge The Commandments takes place in the supposedly tranquil north of Iceland in Akureyri. How can anything bad ever happen in this beautiful little town?
9. Harm, the third book featuring Guðgeir Fransson and his team of investigators alternates between Reykjavik and the breathtaking scenery of the Westman Islands – you know, the ones that often feature in wishlists of remote houses in inaccessible landscapes.
10. Bonus entry: in our novella Skin Deep, our first book to be translated from Spanish (estimated publication date spring 2023), we meet a group of cross-border investigators in the Basque region. The body, however, is found in Biarritz.
Phew! Ten books since we launched at the start of 2020. That’s not bad, is it? Wonder where our literary travels will take us next! Well, the clue might lie in what I’m currently translating… And the action does take place in autumn!
Another week of horrendous ill health (I’ll spare you the details) and generally feeling quite helpless and low about most things. I’m ready for another holiday, aren’t you? Escapism is more needed than ever before, so here are some pictures to put you in a more positive frame of mind.
There is no such thing as a relaxing holiday with the extended family back in the home country… but there were many pleasant moments, and a complete break from the treadmill, so I can’t complain! I’ve been boring everyone with endless holiday pictures on Twitter, but here are a few of my favourites, to give you a flavour of the landscapes and ‘vibes’. I will share more in my next few Friday Fun posts. [None tomorrow, though, as I have a lot of catching up to do still]
Although I had no time to browse in bookshops (unbelievable, I know!), I brought back a whole pile of books with me, some were old favourites languishing on my parents’ bookshelves, others that I had ordered online a few months ago and got delivered to their address. Meanwhile, a few books made their way into my letterbox here in the UK while I was away.
Here’s the result!
As part of my search for contemporary Romanian authors to read and possibly translate, particularly women authors, I’ll be reading Raluca Nagy, Nora Iuga, Magda Cârneci (this one has been translated by Sean Cotter) and Diana Bădică. All recommendations via Romanian newsletters to which I subscribe.
A mix of contemporary and more classic male authors as well: Gellu Naum is better known for his avantgarde poetry and prose in the 1930s and 40s, or his wonderful children’s book about the wandering penguin Apolodor in the 1950s, and this is his only novel as far as I am aware (this too has been translated into English, see some reviews here); Max Blecher’s Scarred Hearts, which I previously read and reviewed in English, but wanted to own in Romanian; one of my favourite modern poets, Nicolae Labiș, who died tragically young; an English translation by Gabi Reigh of my favourite play by one of my favourite writers, Mihail Sebastian; finally, two young writers that I want to explore further, Tudor Ganea and Bogdan Coșa.
Last but not least, a dictionary of Romanian proverbs translated into English – just to remind myself of some of the old folk sayings.
Another expat in Berlin story, imaginatively entitled Berlin by Bea Sutton. I read Susan’s review on her blog A Life in Books and couldn’t resist.
Two Japanese crime novels: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Onda Riku (I was bowled over by The Aosawa Murders by the same author) and an older crime classic by Matsumoto Seicho entitled Tokyo Express.
Two volumes of poetry, Reckless Paper Birds and Panic Response by the English poet John McCullough. I recently attended a workshop with him and found him very inspiring indeed.
Last but by no means list: a whole flurry of chapbooks of Swiss literature, translated from all four official languages of Switzerland, published by the wonderful Strangers Press at the UEA. I am hoping to convince them to do a series on Romanian literature too someday, fingers crossed!
My older son has just finished his first year at university and will be coming home for the summer. So I am in the mood to check out some university campuses around the world: while architecture and functionality are both important, I am always more impressed by beautiful locations and gardens.
One final blog post about my trip to Romania, but you will be relieved to hear that this time you will not have to rely on my puny photographic skills. Instead, I would like to introduce you to some painters associated with the little town of Curtea de Argeş. I was surprised to discover there were far more than I had expected, when I went to visit the local museum. Alongside painters who were either born or made their home here, this part of the country seems to have been a popular source of inspiration for well-known painters living in Bucharest. Not to mention, of course, the medieval church frescoes.
Every couple of weeks I start looking at property websites and planning my next move. The house in which I live now is probably the one I have spent the longest amount of time in (we bought it the year my younger son was born, 16 years ago), but we lived there intermittently, moving abroad twice during that period, for a total of seven years away. I fought tooth and nail to keep it in my divorce settlement, because I couldn’t face the hassle of yet another move. Yet, once both sons have swanned off to university or jobs or whatever they plan to do, I am planning to ‘downsize’. In my case, however, the downsizing might be more a case of moving abroad (in the EU, to be precise), where houses are more affordable (although not the ones I am showing below). I will obviously be spending some of the year in Romania, in a landscape somewhat like this:
But for the rest of the year, there are three places that are calling to me, each with its pros and cons.
Option 1– France – for the skiing, food and culture
Option 2 – Berlin – for the friends and lifestyle
Option 3 – Ireland, County Cork – for its natural beauty and remaining in an English-speaking environment
So where would you advise me to move in a few years’ time? Where would you like to join me for writing and/or reading retreats, coupled with a bit of hiking or Nordic walking?
Earlier this month I came across a dream villa in a dream location on the shores of Lake Geneva, designed by Olson Kundig Architects. I was so intrigued by it that I stalked them on their website and systematically worked my way through their portfolio. Alongside public buildings all over the world, they also have a knack for very modern private houses, with huge windows, in stunning locations, really allowing nature to mingle with the indoors. When I win the lottery (or a whole dozen of them, I think), you know whom I will employ to build me the dream home. All the photos are from their website
We’ve spent a lot of time in home libraries, cosy reading nooks, even under the stairs over the past few weeks. So it’s high time we looked at inspiring contemporary architectures (hopefully well insulated and far away from peeking eyes) set in amazing landscapes. Welcome to spring, Easter, and nature’s rebirth!
I was supposed to go to Romania this summer to celebrate my parents’ 80th birthdays (they are on different days, but both in the same year). I was hoping to take the boys for a hike in my beloved mountains, but instead will have to make do with these pictures instead. The first few pictures are from places that were within easy travel distance from Bucharest, so I used to go hiking and skiing there at least once a month when I was a pupil and a student. The last batch show the four seasons in different parts of the country.
N.B. I left Romania in the mid 1990s because it had a corrupt government, merciless exploitative capitalism combined with nostalgia for communist strong men, and because young people seemed to have no future there to fully develop their talents. There are still plenty of things wrong there, but I’m seriously thinking of moving back there in retirement at the latest.