I read The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald for my book club and I have to admit I expected it to be chick lit. It shows how little I knew about Fitzgerald, who I now know is an English Booker Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and biographer.
There are so many books out at the moment set in book shops, cafes, shops, that I assumed it was one of those and I was quite happy to read something a little lighter after finishing American Gods and Anatomy of a Soldier in previous months.
I didn't know what to expect and I was in for a story with a vastly shifting tone. It started with a little old lady, Florence Green, taking on the world and I really admired her passion and refusal to be cowed by her neighbours and the nasty Lady of the Manor.
The middle of the novel was my favourite, really laugh out loud funny with brilliant insights into life in a small village. I grew up in a village where anyone who hadn't been there for fifty years was an incomer, so this felt very familiar and Fitzgerald's portrayal of the array of characters you meet was cleverly perceived. I particularly enjoyed Florence's unlikely and often comical friendships.
But the rapper/ghost? Where did that come from? I thought it was a ploy to get Florence out of her shop, I did not expect a supernatural element to the story.
Maybe because I have my own dream of success that I felt so deeply for Florence. I wanted her to do well, to beat the odds, to get her happily ever after. Half way through the book I completely believed it was possible.
Things deteriorated rapidly and my heart broke as her life fell apart. The last line is maybe one of the saddest I've ever read. I won't share it as it gives the whole plot away but even now I feel really sad when I remember it.
By the end I was definitely in need of cake. Florence visited an old recluse and he gave her tea and fruit cake, so it was the perfect excuse to try out a recipe for Christmas.
I decided to try a Chocolate Cherry Christmas Cake from Good Housekeeping since I love chocolate, cherries and cake. The recipe makes a very dark, rich fruit cake, moist. I normally prefer lighter Christmas cakes in general, but this made a good change. I couldn't really taste the chocolate as it blended in but the sharp sour cherries provided a really nice tang. There's lots of fruit (cherries, of course!) and it was delicious with a slice of Wensleydale cheese - my Yorkshire roots showing.
Even better, it's a gluten free cake and as with so many recipes now you wouldn't know it. If you're looking for a good gluten free, rich Christmas Cake I'd definitely recommend it.
Dear Ms M E Spoonie,
Thank you for your correspondence, I’m sorry that you are unhappy with your current reality and appreciate your suggestions for Life 1.0. We take our customers’ suggestions very seriously.
The model of Body you selected came with the modification Spoonie 101, this is a delicate program that requires a high level of care to maintain. It presents a number of apparent errors but this is part of the operating system and is intended to teach users advanced skills in Pacing, Self Care and Rest. I see you’ve spent over twenty years on these and are very adept. I’m impressed and you should be too. They are under appreciated skills in Life 1.0 but more valuable than anyone realises.
The time you’ve spent in recharge mode has allowed you to initiate some powerful level ups, including Intuition 6.5, Integrity 5.2 and Calm 8.0. You are more advanced than the majority of players who chose body versions without physical limitations. While they are visibly achieving in the 3D plane, you are expanding into 4D and the highly coveted 5D. With time those based in 3D will come to desire what you do with ease. Enjoy it now and make the most of your abilities in the future.
You mentioned your frustration at being stuck in one location. That’s why we installed the free program World Wide Web in 1993. There are more options available to you if you decide to look into this further.
I understand you want to pursue a number of quests including Soul Mate 1M, Published Author 1.0 and Baby 1B or 1G. Unfortunately Soul Mate and Baby quests both require another player and currently your designated co-player is caught up in a quest of his own. It’s not that you’re not ready, it’s that he’s not ready. Please be patient, he is gaining valuable skills and will be a worthy companion.
In the meantime you are making great advances in Published Author 1.0. You recently upgraded to Imagination 9.8, one of the highest functioning levels I have seen. This programme runs exceedingly well with Spoonie 101 but requires a large amount of processing speed. As such there is a reduction in physical energy but it grants access to Virtual World 1.0, the expansion pack to World 1.0. Have you noticed how much more you can do there? I suggest taking more time to explore the hidden features, they allow for more freedom and are very enjoyable.
If you find you’re struggling you can go online for tutorials from advanced users. I endorse Martha Beck, Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. There are a number of Facebook groups for users to share their experiences. Alternatively fill out the help request and someone will be with you very quickly. Our goal is for you to enjoy Life 1.0, it is designed for your expansion and progress. We’re here to help.
If I can be of any further assistance please get in touch.
The Game Designer
Write a gratitude journal, that’s what the therapist told her. Make a list of everything you love and appreciate. She stared at the blank notebook balanced on her lap. The horrific expanse of white she was supposed to fill. So much space, so much emptiness.
She couldn’t do this, she had nothing to say, nothing to be grateful for. Life was hard, it hurt every day, like breathing glass.
The pen felt cold and hard within her grip and she scratched the date at the top of the page, the black ink scouring into the white, soaking in forever. Just one day in so many.
She hunched forward, curling into a tight ball, her forehead pressed against the page.
Why did everything fall apart? Why did people leave? There was nobody she could count on, no one who would stay with her, no matter how hard she tried. Life continued to crumble, to shake her to the core. Tears fell, soaking into the paper, burning her eyes until she threw the book aside and stared down at the rough, grey carpet beneath her. Dirty, rough but solid. Unmoving. Hard yes, but stable too. The ground held her. It stayed with her. It went wherever she did. It was always there with her, every step of the way. Literally.
It had been there from the first time she crawled, took her first steps, tried her first pair of heels. It was there when she stumbled and fell in those heels, greeted her sixteen year old self as she tumbled to the floor and lay there torn between mortification and hilarity. Laughter had won out then as it did now and she smiled at the memory. It was a different carpet, a different city, a different bedroom, but the same resting place.
Sand, soil, carpet, tiles. The medium changed, the texture, the feel but her foundation was always there. The one thing she could trust was the solidity of the space she rested on. That stillness that she could come back to, no matter where she stood.
This was her home, her bedrock, her place.
She retrieved the journal, smoothed out the paper and wrote.
‘I’m grateful for the ground I stand on, for it is mine and I call it home.’
‘Have you thought anymore about getting a bigger place?’ I asked Shelley as we peered into the depths of the rock pool.
She reached for a piece of seaweed but stopped with a hiss of pain.
‘It’s getting a little snug, isn’t it?’ I nodded to the shell on her back. ‘I went through that, it was like the walls were closing in on me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.’
She shifted casually to release the tension between her claw and her pale pink shell. ‘It’s really not that bad.’ She didn’t go back for the seaweed.
I fished it out and passed it to her. ‘It’s been a good home to you and it’s beautiful but you need something bigger, somewhere with room to grow.’
‘I’m happy here.’
‘I know, I was happy in my first place too. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but things changed.’ I nibbled on a piece of seaweed. ‘I’ve seen you looking at the other shells. I know you feel it, the desire to break free, to try something new. It’s scary but it means you’re ready.’
‘You make it sound so easy.’
‘It wasn’t. The world seemed so huge and terrifying. All I wanted was to hide away.’
‘I’m not hiding.’ She had hunched back into her shell but she stretched out now.
‘Of course not, but things aren’t right, are they? Not with that crack letting in the sun and the sand.’ Shelley had survived an encounter with a gull.
She swivelled her eyes to try to see the crack. ‘It’s fine, I can’t even tell it’s there.’ She huddled closer into the shadows.
‘Right now your shell feels like the safest place in the world but home is wherever you are, not the walls that surround you.’ I tapped the edge of my conch. ‘You remember my old snail shell, right? It was perfect, so snug, smooth as silk. I thought it was my forever home but things changed, I changed, I grew, and I had to move on.’
‘Yeah but you found somewhere nice.’ She sighed and her antennae drooped. ‘What if I don’t?’
‘What if you do? A gorgeous shell washed up on the beach yesterday. I had to trust that the perfect place would find me and it did. If you’re ready, the right home will find you. And when it does you get to decide what you take with you and what you leave behind. You get to reinvent yourself and it feels amazing, like you can breathe again. The weight of the past is gone and you’re free. The whole world looks different, feels different. It’s exciting.’
‘I don’t know if I can.’
‘I’ve seen you fight off a gull, fall twenty feet and survive. You can do this. I believe in you and you’re not alone, I’m right here with you. Trust me, everything’s going to be okay. Better than okay, it’s going to be amazing.’
I wrote this piece for a writing class. It led me to research hermit crabs and I discovered this amazing video of them swapping shells. It has the bonus of David Attenborough's lovely voice.
You can read it here... https://clandestinecakeclub.co.uk/mystery-ingredient-claire-wade/
I came across the term for the first time in a blog. It describes the books I write in a much better way than anything I've found so far. It's exciting to see that there's an emerging market and somewhere I feel my stories belong.
I'm now on the hunt to find some new adult authors to read. Do you have any suggestions?
I won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. My novel, The Box, is going to be published on 25th July 2019, by Orion