June: Winter Magic, classic crime and folk traditions

Roving

June in the Blue Mountains is a cold affair, but that’s why we love it. Come the Winter Solstice, Katoomba hosts its annual Winter Magic festival to cheer us all up and remind us that it’s all downhill after that (which is not strictly true by the way, some of our coldest days have been recorded after the shortest day/longest night). It’s a brilliant day out and the population of K-Town swells by several thousand as people turn out – many in costume – for the poet’s breakfast, market stalls, bands, and street parade. I always tour the stalls, grab a hot chocolate at The Paragon then watch the parade pass by. Some years I end the day with a glass of red at The Carrington and catch the fireworks, other years (like this year) I retreat home to put my feet up with a good book and a Milo. I love the cold weather but I don’t love being cold.

June is also when the charming Rick Rutherford puts his tinsel out for the first of two annual Christmas decoration previews, which consist of wine, nibbles and first dibs on his latest glittery sparkly seasonal stash of wreaths, candles, pictures, figurines, baubles and kitchenalia. It never disappoints and over the years I have dragged various relatives and friends along for the retail ride to his Lawson shop. So yes, Christmas DOES come twice a year here or as I prefer to call it for seasonal reasons, Real Yule (June) and Faux Yule (December).

Snow fell – whoohoo! Living in the Southern Hemisphere, I get very excited about snow. It never hangs around long enough here to be a major inconvenience and it makes the ‘hood look like Narnia for 24 hours which, for a C.S. Lewis fan, is immensely exciting. Fortunately, we have a decent supply of wood on hand so the slow combustion has been going 24/7 to keep us warm and cosy.

In other excellent news, a proper full-length series of MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin starring the amazing Ashley Jensen was announced and debuted in the UK. The ABC must have heard us Aussies whingeing because news swiftly trickled through that Aunty had purchased the cosy crime series and it would air in Oz at a future date. Oh jubilation!

And two cats joined the household – Puck, a black one-eyed wonder, and Ash, a topaz-eyed grey brindle – much to resident feline Grimalkin’s surprise. The three are quickly becoming inseparable. It pays to have close, cuddly, furry friends in this weather. Am I a crazy cat lady? I don’t believe so, surely that’s five or more…anyway, all of my boys have come from the Mini Kitty Commune, a brilliant Sydney-based charity run by the indomitable Mel and Derek and their many loyal supporters. Support them if you can, they really do restore my faith in humanity.

Writing

I did get quite a lot of writing done this month – must be the proximity of my favourite writing desk (the kitchen table) to the slow combustion fire. I’ve been plotting, planning and very slowly writing a string of interconnected short stories that will result in a novella-length book. Well that’s the plan…

Reading

I read some fascinating articles including this piece by China Miéville on the savage violence of nature – very folk horror. And then there was this charming piece about ‘late-bloomer’ author Lilian Jackson Braun, who started writing at age 53 and published a string of successful books about a feline detective, a Siamese cat named Kao K’o-Kung, and his human sidekick Jim Qwilleran, a hard-drinking journalist.

Meanwhile, in the book department…

Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham This book is one of a crime series following the exploits of Allingham’s protagonist Albert Campion. First published in 1941, it’s feeling every one of its 75 years since publication. Albert is suffering amnesia and is niggled by the feeling he has forgotten something very important (in this case he’s on a mission to avert an internal act of terrorism on the UK economy, he just can’t recall it for most of the novel). There’s also a love triangle, lots of Sinister Men, and a secretive Mason-like order holding sway over a small village where most of the story is set. To be honest it was a slog to read it but I must have liked something about the story because here I am reviewing it. Allingham is one of the four ‘queens of crime’ and she does keep the action pulsing if nothing else. I would love to watch an old movie adaptation of this story but alas none was ever done. Drat!

Death and the Lit Chick by GM MallietMalliet is a favourite author or mine. Her crisp, clean and clever prose is well-endowed with humour and a pleasure to read with well-drawn characters who are (when they’re not being killed off) a lot of fun. This is the second book in her St Just series (the first was Death of a Cozy Writer), and kills off a rather annoying chick lit writer at a writers’ conference. One can’t help feeling that perhaps this is a fond wish of many a writer! GM Malliet is a worthy investment of your time and money. I’m off to find some more books…

Arcadia Brittanica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait by Henry Bourne and Simon Costin – This is more coffee table book than solid read, but it’s beautifully photographed and captures a colourful part of English folk heritage. Photographer Henry Bourne travelled around to some of Britain’s greatest folk events and captured revellers in all their glory with pagan, historical and nature-inspired costumes, elaborately made-up and sporting impressive hairdos. It’s a rarely seen side of Britain, but one that should be recorded, celebrated and where possible preserved.

The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves by Mary ReynoldsI’d never heard of Mary Reynolds before until I chanced upon a book review in a Grass Roots magazine (at least I think that’s where I spotted it). Reynolds is a ‘reformed landscape designer’ and permaculturist with a bit of a mystical bent. Harking from Ireland, the land of the fey, she does weave some impressive magic in her gardens. I suppose you’d call this a sacred gardening book, which I certainly like the sound of – it would seem the ultimate conceit to suppose a patch of dirt is simply and only ever that. Reynolds encourages gardeners to develop a relationship with their land and tap into the ever-present energy and wildness. It’s thought-provoking, well-written and beautifully presented. An ideal gift for green thumbs.

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