The Classics Club Spin # 27

The Classics Club #27 has been chosen and it’s number 6 which for me means that I’ll be reading The Corn King and the Spring Queen by the Scottish author Naomi Mitchison.

I must admit that this one has been languishing on what is my second Classics Club list unread because I’ve been dodging it due to it being a chunkster – and a paperback, therefore is awkward to read. However I’m determined to read this one as I failed miserably in the last spin.

The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison

The Land the Ravens Found cover

The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison was published in 1955 it is a children’s book and I’ve given it three stars on Goodreads. It’s the story of how some people in a Viking community based in Caithness, the far north of Scotland, decide that they are tired of the violent life in Caithness. There’s constant fighting and raiding going on. It’s decided that Iceland is the place to travel to and some of the people who are chosen to go are thralls, Scots and Irish who have been taken prisoner on earlier raids. They’ll be doing a lot of the rowing.

It’s a time when Christianity was beginning to get a toehold on the people and some were giving up the Norse gods for the new religion, causing some tension between those who wanted to keep to the old ways.

Aud the Deep Minded is a wise and respected woman, wealthy too, she’s one of the older women and is a Christian, she decides to organise the building of a ship that will sail them across the sea to Iceland where she hopes to settle down to a more peaceful way of life in her old age. After a scary voyage with the boat piled high with cattle and everything needed to build a new community, they reach Iceland and in time everyone is allotted some land and people pair up to start families. The few Icelandic people seem happy to have the incomers moving in, life has been harder for them and they have very little in the way of luxuries. It seems that their way of life might be improved by the foreigners and they can learn from each other.

My copy of this book is really nice, I suspect that it has never been read as the pages are pristine, lovely thick paper and I think that might be because at the beginning of the book the author throws so many characters at the reader, all with outlandish names, it makes it quite a confusing read to begin with.

However, this book has made me think that I would really like to read the original Icelandic sagas that Naomi Mitchison based this book on.

This is another book read for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, number 22.

Naomi Mitchison was an amazing woman who lived to the age of 101. You can read an obituary by Elizabeth Longford here. This one is more personal than the Guardian one below.

You can read her Guardian obituary here.

I’ve had a Virago copy of her book The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931) for years and it’s about time I got around to reading it. Elizabeth Longford describes it as possibly the best historical novel of the 20th century. What an amazing thing to say, I’m now really looking forward to reading it and hoping I won’t be disappointed.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Map of the UK


Jack was thrilled to bits when a writer friend of his sent him a link to this literary map of British Science Fiction and Fantasy writers, made up of all their names, inscribed on the part of Britain that they are living or were born in.

Admittedly it’s a few years since he has got round to writing anything, what with pressure of work and then moving house and such. It is about time I gave him a swift kick up the bahookie (bum/ass) in the hopes of galvanising him into action again. He has only had one novel published but has had quite a few short stories appearing in anthologies.

Anyway, there he is, Jack Deighton up on the west coast of Scotland, sandwiched in between Naomi Mitchison and Edwin Morgan amongst others. It’s an interesting and pretty map I think.

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson

Millions Like Us cover

Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson is subtitled Women’s Lives During the Second World War. I read about this book on someone’s blog, one which I regularly visit, but sadly I can’t remember which one. Anyway I thought that after reading two books recently which were mainly about men in the war, I thought this would be a nice change, it was more than that, it was really interesting. This book was first published in 2011, just in time really as by then an awful lot of women who were active during the war were already dead. The wartime home economist Marguerite Patten features in the book and of course, she died recently. The Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison also features in it, another one no longer with us.

Inevitably a book like this has culled material from various other books on the subject, so some of Nella Last’s diary extracts appear too. It’s about every aspect of women’s lives at the time, from having to take in refugees from Belgium and Holland, or children from London. Choosing which service to join if you were unmarried, apparently thousands applied to join the Wrens (Navy) because the uniform was much more flattering than the others, and the hat was very fetching!

Those who ended up working in factories often had to put up with men who were resentful that the women were there, so they played tricks on them all the time, or the boss seemed to think that putting up with being groped by him was in the job description.

All in all it was a tough time for women, some of them might have enjoyed the friendship of their colleagues, especially if they had lived very narrow lives until then, but others were obviously happy to marry just about any chap to get pregnant and escape back to civilian life.

As you would expect, it seems that the strict moral code which most middle and working class women adhered to went out the window when you didn’t know whether you would wake up in the morning or you would be killed by a bomb.

At the end of the war, when the men eventually began to trickle home again, it wasn’t all milk and honey, with the husbands being keen to get back to the way things had been before, with them being head of the house. Seemingly they had no idea that the women had had things so tough. In some ways it was easier for those who were off in the services, they had their food put down to them and didn’t have to worry about clothing coupons as they were in uniform. It must have been quite a shock to see how much work went into just trying to get enough food when they got back to civvy street.

The book mentions that one woman in the ATS put on 2 stones in weight during the war, because they were being fed stodge I suppose, and I’ve seen it mentioned elsewhere that you could tell the women who had been in the forces because they all looked bloated. I had already noticed that from photos I had been shown by women I’ve known over the years.

There’s a small bit in the book about women who had been conscientious objectors, apparently they were given a tougher time than their male counterparts. As the women would never have to kill anyone it seems that they were seen as just trying to dodge doing anything at all. The one man that I knew who was a ‘conshy’ during the war actually had a really awful time of it as he accepted work as an ambulance driver in London, which meant that a lot of his time was spent in gathering up body parts and taking them to a hospital mortuary. There were women doing the same thing, really it’s a wonder they didn’t all go mad.

Peacetime brought divorce for a lot of couples who had married in haste, hardly knowing each other at all, and never really expecting to survive the war. For the GI brides things were even more precarious. Think of leaving your own family behind to be with someone you hardly know in a strange country. Not being able to run home when your husband started beating you up is a distinct disadvantage. No doubt some of the marriages were successful, but I remember my mother telling me that she knew a few girls who had been GI brides and went off to the US – all starry eyed, no doubt thinking of Hollywood, but when they got there they discovered that their husband’s home town was way out in the sticks, a sort of one horse town and definitely stuck in the past as far as the brides were concerned. What a disappointment!

Back to the book, it was a time of huge social upheaval obviously and working class women and ‘toffs’ were thrown together as they had never been before, an education for all concerned no doubt. I haven’t mentioned the make-up, apparently it was thought that women should wear make up, as a moral booster for everyone. I rarely use the stuff but I do admire that generation of women who had so much pride that they never opened their front door if they didn’t have their lipstick on (my mother) – but I hadn’t realised it was encouraged by the government!

This book used diaries, autobiographies, memoirs and interviews with the few who are still around. A very good read.

Book Haul

It’s half-term and we went to Stockbridge in Edinburgh again and had a good snoop around the bookshops. Too good actually because I ended up spending just over 30 quid – ouch.

The Jasmine Farm by Elizabeth von Arnim
Penny Plain by O. Douglas
Cromartie Versus the God Shiva by Rumer Godden
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
The Singer not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop
The Corn King and The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
The Republic by Plato
The Building of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor
County Chronicle by Angela Thirkell

I don’t feel too bad about it though because quite a few of them will be read for The C P R Book Group – eventually!