I have been playing pass-the-parcel with my chattels. For over five years my belongings have been held at disparate venues around the county. Now that I am settled permanently, bit by bit they are returning to me. Even when parted from an object for a few days there is a sense of delight and wonder as it reappears in my hands. I can’t fully explain it, the latest house move took only two days, but still I greeted my curios with glee. There is a child-like thrill in unwrapping them from their onion-skin paper parcels. Possibly the very act of peeling away the layers is a reminiscent of childish excitement, of sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting for my turn to remove a layer of pretty paper, hoping against hope that when the music finally stops it will be my lap that the present falls into.
Although I have a paired down my library more than once, I am surprised and delighted by what I still own. I have spent several days trying to establish an order on the shelves that makes sense; to me at least. The fiction is easy to categorise; alphabetical by author, art books – and there are many – prove more difficult. Initially I ordered them by movements; Cubism, Surrealism, Vorticism, Bristish idiosyncratic, outsider art, feminist art, early art, African and Cycladic art. Then I tried linking artists, Gwen John next to Augustus. It didn’t work. Stepping back I witnessed a collision of heights and thickness of volumes, where the exhibition catalogues became lost next to sturdy volumes on the Tate and National Portrait gallery. So instead I have settled for category by height, thickness and ease of use.
With the literature I begin to see an unfolding fictional narrative to my life; a Desert Island Discs in literary form. As a child reading gave me an autonomy quite separate from the adult strictures of should’s, ought’s and table manners. We had a cupboard where I spent quite a lot of rainy days with my head in a book. Being the youngest of four children there were books lying about that my elder siblings read and I would simply pick them up and read on. Often they were ‘boy’s books’ tales of derring-do and adventure. I had a particular passion for Puddledock Farm by Grace Lodge, I was parted from it during one of my mother’s purges, but recovered a copy with the help of Abe Books. I adored both the story and the beautiful illustrations.
Later I encountered tales of girls, young innocents in London and Dublin – Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark and Girl with Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien, showed me that my life in the shabby lodgings of East London was not that different from the characters on the page. There are clearly volumes that were the thing to read at the time. J.P. Donleavey: The Saddest Summer of Samuel S, The Beastly Beatitudes of Balazar B, which I have hung on to, enjoying the alliteration in the titles. Then there was Ian McEwan’s short story Solid Geometry ‘Her voice quite tiny. “What’s happening?” And all that remained was the echo of her above the deep blue sheet.’ I was shocked for Maisie, folded out of existence; I found this profoundly unsettling. This seems a good point to mention my collection of feminist literature; ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ was the first book I read about the female body that told you everything in a clear unabashed delivery. There have been many times over the years when I have been tempted to dispose of books like ‘The Cinderella Complex’ which sits somewhere in my system between feminism and self-help. I am glad that I held on to these books. They reveal a tapestry of thought and just like music they take me back to an era which I intend to write about. I haven’t quite made a list of twelve, nor have I decided if I could choose just one which it would be. But re-acquainted with these volumes I intend to set about re-reading the authors whose work formed the backdrop to some interesting decades of my life and whose ideas were integral to my development as a woman and as an author.