Behind The Covers: a book’s hidden story

Like many of us, I can’t resist searching through a pile of second-hand books whether they’re in a shop, car boot sale or just an old cardboard box in a street market. If I want a modern paperback I will go to our local bookseller and buy new but when it comes to second-hand, it is non-fiction I’m after – and the older the better.
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There is something rather special to holding a book that has been previously owned, and hopefully loved, by someone else. It is even better when you find that they have written inside the cover. Sometimes it is the signature of the author with a personal note added or a birthday greeting from an aunt but it is the name of the unknown owner that really excites me. In those two or three words an imagined picture emerges of the man, woman, girl or boy that was also opening the covers with the same sense of eager anticipation.IMG_0741A copyright
Over the years I have picked up a number of these books, usually for no more than a couple of pounds and more often just for pence for they are of little real monetary value. Occasionally I have struck lucky: a book on cricket turned out to have been signed by Donald Bradman, the legendary Australian captain, and turned my seventy-five pence purchase into a profit of over ninety pounds within days. More often the book remains on my shelves forever.

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My interest in social and family history means that I can never resist carrying out a little research into my purchases. A book on Victorian garden design published in 1861 and presented in 1879 to Duncan Buchanan by the Paisley Florist Society slowly revealed its story. The Paisley Florist Society, the second oldest in the country and founded in 1782 , is still going strong. The fate of Duncan Buchanan’s Barshaw Gardens changed over the years: in 1912 the house and gardens were sold and turned into a public park which is still open to the public. After he won his prize he pencil sketched a delightful view on the back page which, for me, makes the book priceless.garden book agarden book 2
Not all books have such a happy story. A G Street wrote Round The Year On The Farm in 1941 and is a calendar of farming life and tasks supplemented with photographs. The signature Edgar Liversedge of Rawmarsh didn’t take a lot of research for in 1914 his mother Emily, in a fit of madness, cut his four younger siblings throats before cutting her own. Before she did so, she sent young Edgar, aged 12, downstairs to wait for his father to return home so that he could tell him what she had done. As it happened she and ten year old Doris survived and Emily found guilty of murder was sent to a mental home for life. How did Doris and Edgar fare after such a terrible ordeal? One can only hope that Edgar, who had perhaps turned to farming, found solace in nature and the great outdoors.

A G Street copyright
Now, when I open my A G Street I find I am not only reading a charming record of the time of farming with horses but also a record of the sadness of the book’s owner. This is, I’m glad to say, an exception for most second-hand books have a happy hidden story just waiting to be uncovered.

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A Host of Golden Daffodils

If you want to see, as Wordsworth did, a ‘host of golden daffodils…beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze,’ in your own garden now is the time to plant them. What’s more, you don’t need a lake or rolling acres to have a spectacular show. The secret is to plant them in quantity and with a little thought on position.

Daffodils (2)    copyright

Daffodils (Narcissus) are incredibly easy to grow for every full sized bulb that you buy already has next spring’s flower formed within it. All you have to do is pop them in the ground as soon as possible after purchase and nature does the rest.Daffodils (2)   copyright

A general rule is to plant any bulb twice the depth of its height: so if your bulb is two inches high, your planting hole needs to be four inches deep. When they are tucked safely below ground at that level the bulbs aren’t so likely to get damaged when weeding. To get the ‘host’ look don’t plant singly or in tiny groups of twos and threes. Think big, think twenty-five, fifty or even a hundred or more. This may sound an expensive option but daffodils are readily available in bulk mail order and many garden centres offer a ‘cram as many as you can into a bag’ deal. It is worth remembering too that the bulbs will continue to increase in quantity and flower for many years making them incredibly good value for money.

Naturalised Daffodils   copyright

Because daffodils flower early in the year, before most other plants in the border have got going, it is not necessary to plant them at the front. If they are planted further back, later their dying leaves will become hidden by spring growth. You will find that when planted too far forward, they are both unsightly and a nuisance.

Narcissus 'Salome'

Narcissus ‘Salome’

One of the best ways of growing daffodils is to grow them in grass or under trees – just as Wordsworth saw them. The simplest way to do this is to simply throw the bulbs and plant them where they fall. Some will land very close together and some further apart which makes them look as if they have been growing there forever. Make the throw gentle, a cross between underarm cricket and bowls – you’re not trying to win the Ashes. In grass, the bulbs will be easier to spot if you mow the grass as short as possible beforehand.

Naturalised Daffodils (3)   copyright

Which varieties to select is only difficult because there is almost too much choice. For naturalising I tend to select three standard varieties that flower at slightly differing times, thereby extending the flowering period. In the borders I just choose those varieties that I fancy.

Narcissus 'Chanterelle'

Narcissus ‘Chanterelle’

Although daffodils are best planted during August and September, I usually find I’m too busy with other garden tasks then. I have found they can be planted right up to December without a problem providing wintry weather hasn’t closed in. If the thought of planting large quantities sounds rather daunting remember you can always plant year after year until you’ve achieved the aimed for look.

Nine thousand daffodils!

Nine thousand daffodils!

John Shortland is the author of Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That? a jargon-free and easy to read gardening manual, available from Amazon and good bookshops.  To take a peep inside click on the image below.

BOOK COVER FROM AMAZON

An Exciting Evening

Fellow bloggers often comment about when they first began to write and  especially when or why they began to blog. When you come to think about it, blogging is rather an odd thing to do: you write your piece, perhaps add a few images, press the publish button and it’s out there for all the world to see.  Many of us assume that no-one will bother to read it and, after all, why should anybody be interested in our thoughts or projects?  But, again as many of us know, gradually people find us, follow us and friendships start to build.  The great majority of our followers we are never likely to meet in reality yet they share our tales and show real interest in what we are doing, whether it be family, travel, garden or whatever else we blog about.  Just occasionally, you come face to face with one and this happened last night.

Followers of this blog, whether here or on Facebook or my new website – or my Tweets –  can hardly have failed to notice that I have had my first book, “Why Can’t My Garden look Like That?” published recently (for I have been talking about virtually nothing else lately).  It has been an incredible journey with a huge and rapid learning curve; from commission to publication  it was completed in only thirteen months.  Fortunately, I had huge support and encouragement from my publishers, Constable & Robinson.  Fast forward another seven weeks to yesterday evening: the date of the official book launch.

I was delighted that our local bookshop, Jaffe & Neale, hosted it for Chipping Norton is very fortunate in having such a lovely, independent and award-winning bookshop.  It couldn’t have been a better choice of location for the town was glowing golden with the heat-wave sunshine emphasising the colour of the old, Cotswold stone buildings.

With Polly Jaffe of Jaffe & Neale, who hosted the evening, and Nikki Read and Giles Lewis of publishers, Constable & Robinson

I felt remarkably relaxed at the thought of making a speech to a large number of people.  In fact, my real concern was that no-one would turn up at all!  However, over one hundred came, filling the bookshop and spilling out onto the pavement giving the whole evening a real party atmosphere which, in turn, created more interest from passers-by.

A memorable evening was made all the more so as I began to realise just how far people had travelled to be with me.  Bette Baldwin of Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage had travelled up from Devon – I had met Bette only once before on Exmoor, thanks to the power of blogging.  Several others I had not met for a very long time; thirty years or more and, of course, there were others that I’d never met before at all.  The evening came to a close with a celebratory dinner organised by friends at a local restaurant.  An exciting evening and one never to be forgotten.

Yet more excitement today as I find that my book has been reviewed and described as “brilliant” by LandLove magazine.  They are also running a competition with ten copies of my book as prizes.  You can find out more about that by clicking the link here.

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An Invitation

John Shortland

invites you to celebrate the launch of

Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?

Proven, Easy Ways to Make a Beautiful Garden of Your Own

With a foreword by Josceline Dimbleby

 

 

Monday 15thJuly

6.00 – 8.00 pm

Jaffé & Neale Bookshop

Middle Row, Chipping Norton.  OX7 5NH

If you are unable to make it on the day and would like to purchase a signed copy, please do contact me.  Payment can be arranged through Paypal and I’m happy to ship overseas.  Unsigned copies can, of course, be purchased direct through Amazon or visit my publishers, Constable & Robinson’s website by clicking here.

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Being Interviewed on BBC Radio Oxford

I was a guest of Kat Orman on BBC Radio Oxford today, being interviewed about my forthcoming book, Why Can’t My Garden look Like That?, and also the career change from fashions to flowers.

One of the questions Kat asked was had I ever had a ‘Lady Chatterley’ moment.  You will have to listen to the interview to find out my response!

To listen to the programme  click here.  I am on air at 2:07:00.  The programme is only available for a few days so you’ll need to be quick…

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Chipping Norton – One Week To Go!



Chipping Norton, one of the gateway towns of the Cotswolds often gets overlooked on the tourist trail.  It is not surprising in some ways for many of the region’s towns and villages look as if they have come straight off the lid of a chocolate box – all golden, mellow stone crouched under a heavy hat of deep thatch, devoid of much of twenty-first century life.  Chipping Norton – or Chippy as it is affectionately known by the locals – is different: a bustling, working town full of people going about their everyday lives , whether shopping or working.

Look beyond the modern shop fronts and traffic and you find a gem of a town; raise your eyes for every building has a different façade and, yes, they too are built from Cotswold stone.  Explore the side streets and you find almshouses and a magnificent church and both the 16th century Guildhall and the Town Hall are as glorious a building as you will see anywhere.  Bliss Mill,  a former tweed mill now converted to flats, is surrounded by common land that reaches into the heart of the town.

Chippy is a busy place socially too and for a small town with a population of only 6000 there is always something taking place.  Perhaps one of the most ambitious of recent events is the Chipping Norton Literary Festival (ChipLitFest), the first of which was held last year to great acclaim.  This year it is bigger than ever and starts in just seven days time on the 18th April and continuing throughout the weekend.

 

Because the town is so small, the festival is held in numerous venues.  It is fortunate to have an award winning theatre to stage larger events and an award winning bookshop, Jaffe & Neale, that holds workshops – and sells the most delicious coffee and cakes.  It seems everyone is involved in one way or another: the Chequers pub, the Blue Boar Inn, the Crown & Cushion Hotel, the Vintage Sports Car Club, the local churches, the library; even the shoe shop is hosting a children’s event.  Incidentally, there are free things going on for youngsters all weekend and the festivals designated charity this year is Storybook Dads, which connects prisoners with their families through books and reading.

So who is coming to the festival? There is an amazing choice of eighty authors so there is bound to be someone to interest everybody.  Sir Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame will be there; Fern Britton will be talking about her latest book – and perhaps her experience in Strictly Come Dancing.  For detective novel buffs, Mark Billingham will be discussing murder with Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride and Martyn Waites.  Did you see the film We Need to Talk About Kevin?  Author Lionel Shriver will be discussing her new book, Big Brother, which tackles the subject of obesity.  For foodies, Xanthe Clay, Henrietta Green and William Sitwell ask “are we a nation of food fashionistas?”

Prue Leith – one of our Festival patrons

Two events that especially appeal to me are Ursula Buchan’s talk ‘How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War’ and the Extreme Travel team of Nick Bullock and Jason Lewis discuss their adventures with Sue Cook.  Jason, incidentally, has just been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the first person to circumnavigate the world using only human power and described by the Daily Mail as “the most remarkable adventurer in the world today.”

Sue Cook, another of our Patrons

One of the especial pleasures of coming to the festival is that because both the town and the venues are small, you are able to be close to the authors, to chat with them and to get them to sign your books.  You can also meet me (!) for, as Facebook followers of this blog know, I am part of the organising committee.  ChipLitFest also has a Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

Tickets for all of these events are selling fast and for more information about them and the other authors and host of workshops visit the festival’s website by clicking here.

I look forward to seeing you at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, 18th-21st April – do come and say ‘hello’.

all photos, apart from Bliss Mill, from the ChipLitFest website

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Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?

Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?

Proven, Easy Ways to Create a Beautiful Garden of Your Own

 

by John Shortland

 

(Johnson of Life in the English Cotswolds)

Available now on pre-order (publication date 26th April 2013)

Click here to find out more …

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