I’ve just returned from Malta where I took a (very hot) trip to Mdina, a walled city which was the capital in ancient times. It’s a pretty amazing place to visit anyway for the gorgeous architecture and narrow winding streets – locals call it The Silent City which is incredibly suggestive of mystery and drama, but I was doubly excited because it was the film location for King’s Landing in season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. As you can see from the pictures below, I managed to find the filming location of the main gate to King’s Landing (easy) and Petyr Baelish AKA Littlefinger’s brothel (trickier, you need to look for Piazza Mesquita which isn’t shown on the tourist maps).
Screenshots from Game of Thrones are the property of HBO
Visiting the real life locations of the filming was incredible, and I think that the screenshots next to my photographs in the collage above really show the artistry of the set designers and artists who work on the production to adapt George R.R. Martin’s books for the screen. The changes they’ve made to the landscape are fairly minimal – the ground has been reddened and made to look dirtier and earthier, awnings of rustic fabrics have been draped over doorways and obvious modern features removed, but these subtle changes have such a profound effect when coupled with the presence of actors in costume on horseback. It really becomes a fantasy world. Not only is it a testament to the skills of everyone who worked on the production, but it speaks volumes about the beauty of Mdina. If you’re ever in Malta, I highly recommend a visit.
I’ve always wanted to live in a castle. It might be a by-product of reading too many books set in castles during my formative years, but I’ve always thought they were a more fitting setting for adventures. Especially if they have secret passageways. On the last bank holiday weekend, my boyfriend and I visited Raglan castle which got me thinking about my top 5 favourite castles in literature:
1) Godsend Castle- Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle
“I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic – two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud. I must admit that our home is an unreasonable place to live in. Yet I love it. The house itself was built in the time of Charles II, but it was damaged by Cromwell. The whole of our east wall was part of the castle; there are two round towers in it. The gatehouse is intact and a stretch of the old walls at their full height joins it to the house. And Belmotte Tower, all that remains of an even older castle, still stands on its mound close by. But I won’t attempt to describe our peculiar home fully until I can see more time ahead of me than I do now.”
2) Castle Dracula- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
“I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light,and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky. I must have been asleep, for certainly if I had been fully awake I must have noticed the approach of such a remarkable place. In the gloom the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches, it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is. I have not yet been able to see it by daylight.”
3) Hogwarts Castle- JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series
“He missed Hogwarts so much it was like having a constant stomachache. He missed the castle, with its secret passageways and ghosts, his classes, … the mail arriving by owl, eating banquets in the Great Hall, sleeping in his four-poster bed in the tower dormitory, visiting the gamekeeper, Hagrid, in his cabin next to the Forbidden Forest in the grounds, and especially, Quidditch, the most popular sport in the wizarding world”
4) Cair Paravel- C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia
“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?”
5) Prince Humperdinck’s Castle- William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
Admittedly, not an obvious choice, but how many castles do you know that have a Zoo of Death filled with the most deadly animals on the planet? “The other thing about the Zoo was that it was underground. The Prince picked the spot himself, in the quietest, remotest corner of the castle grounds. And he decreed there were to be five levels, all with the proper needs for his individual enemies. On the first level, he put enemies of speed: wild dogs, cheetahs, hummingbirds. On the second level belonged the enemies of strength: anacondas and rhinos and crocodiles of over twenty feet. The third level was for poisoners: spitting cobras, jumping spiders, death bats galore. The fourth level was the kingdom of the most dangerous, the enemies of fear: the shrieking tarantula (the only spider capable of sound), the blood eagle (the only bird that thrived on human flesh), plus, in its own black pool, the sucking squid. Even the albino shivered during feeding time on the fourth level.”
I love Oxford in the rain. Even a little drizzle seems to clear the streets, and if you head off into the city’s many alleyways during a decent downpour it can feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. I got caught out in a thunderstorm while walking between talks at the literary festival today, and had a great time taking touristy pictures in the moody, semi-empty streets. I was pleased to warm up in front of the open fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall after a little too long taking pictures in the hail and the rain- I was soaked through!
The Radcliffe Camera in a thunderstorm
The Oxford Martin School which hosted “Is the planet too full?”
The Norrington Room at Blackwells Oxford- effectively the world’s best book cave
Drying off from the thunderstorm in front of the fire in Christ Church College’s Great Hall
A full shot of the Great Hall, which Potter fans might recognise as Hogwarts Hall from the films
Tourists sheltering from the thunderstorm under the Bridge of Sighs
Christ Church College Quad
Christ Church College Quad in the thunderstorm
The Bodleian Library luring in unsuspecting passers by…
School children enjoying a talk about the most deadly inventions in the Blackwells festival marquee
The Vaults Cafe looking inviting…
Entrance to the Great Hall at Christ Church with vaulted ceiling and Narnian style lamposts
I love that the Alice in Wonderland Memorial Statue for Margarita Delacorte in Central Park is intended for children to play on, it’s incredibly charming, having been polished smooth by children’s hands since it arrived in the park in 1959, and you can understand why it’s such a popular landmark to photograph.
However, something that you never seem to see is the beautiful quotations around the base of the statue, which were perhaps my favourite thing about it:
I found the last one really moving, it’s the dedication from the husband of the woman who the statue is dedicated to. I wish I could find out a bit more about her, this is just so beautiful. The kind of memorial you’d want if you could choose.
If you ever drop in on my Twitter account, you’ll know that I was in New York for work last week. Working with jet lag was… interesting, fun but very hard work concentrating. The upshot was that my hotel was very close to Central Park so I went wandering there in the afternoons after work and spent most of Saturday marching around from landmark to landmark, from The Mall to The Conservatory Water (via the zoo…). I loved Central Park and could wax lyrical about how amazing I thought it was for hours (pops up in so many books as well) but I won’t instead I will share with you some of the literary statues I managed to track down using a Central Park Map I printed before I went.
Alice in Wonderland Statue- Memorial to Margarita Delacorte
Hans Christian Andersen Statue
Robert Burns Statue on The Mall
Fitz-Greene Halleck Statue on The Mall
William Shakespeare Statue on The Mall
Walter Scott Statue on The Mall
I tried getting to The Shakespeare Garden and hunting down the Romeo and Juliet statue on the Saturday but unfortunately that whole area was fenced off for an Alicia Keys/Stevie Wonder concert that I didn’t have a ticket for… did I miss anything else?
If you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a visit. Your ticket allows you entry to the house and gardens for the year, and if you lived locally then it would be worth going back frequently for the gardens alone, we arrived in the middle of the Sweet Pea Festival, which was beautiful but they have seasonal events throughout the year. There’s currently an exhibition of the language of flowers which talks about how Shakespeare used the hidden meaning of flowers in the play, though this seemed to be very much aimed at a school age audience (eg. when they talked about Ophelia handing out flowers to King Claudius’ court they didn’t mention that the rue Ophelia keeps for herself may be as an abortifacient as she is pregnant with Hamlet’s child).
Yesterday afternoon I took a detour while shopping in Oxford to drop into The Bodleian Library’s exhibition of Magical Books. As with any Bodleian library exhibition, this did not disappoint. It was so exciting to see hand written manuscripts, art work and artefacts that some of my favourite writers created or were inspired by.
Along with the usual suspects like C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Philip Pullman who you would expect to see at an Oxford based exhibition of fantasy literature, there were some real gems that I hadn’t expected to see like medieval manuscripts on divination, the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript and, my personal favourite, the plates which inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.
We read The Owl Service when I started secondary school and I can remember how I used to get told off for reading ahead in lessons when we were meant to be reading along with the class. It’s the first time I’d really appreciated that a story was updating and twisting an ancient myth into something new and modern (even though the book was at least 30 years old by the time I read it). I think that this is where my love of fairy tale and myth inspired novels has come from so it was really nice to be able to trace out the flower owls like Alison did in the story.
Unfortunately, I’m not able to share any pictures from the exhibition here, but the lovely people at the Bodleian have made the entire exhibition available online for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to Oxford to see it.
Ten Weeks in Africa- What would you sacrifice to do the right thing?
When Ed Caine, an NGO worker employed by the Global Justice Alliance moves his wife and young child to Africa to improve living conditions in the Makera slum, he genuinely believes he can make a difference, but in ten short weeks his ideals are shattered. Despite the assistance of Beatrice Kamunda and her father Joseph Kamunda, a senior government official known for his principled stance against corruption, he finds himself stonewalled as funds are siphoned off by the government. As Ed and his friends try struggle to save their project, they begin to realise that they a powerful enemy is behind the land grab. As political tensions seethe pushing the country to the brink of civil war, Ed and Beatrice begin to understand that much more than the survival of the project is at stake.
Though I am interested in politics and global justice, I can’t make any claims to be an expert, so I did some research about what the experts actually thought about it and the consensus seems to be that it is a well-researched, accurate representation of the concerns of people working in this area. For more information I recommend this article by Peter Gill for The Guardian and this article by Charles Moore for The Telegraph.
Yes, I know, this list should really have something by Walter Scott.
This evening finds me sat in a hotel room in the beautiful and atmospheric city of Edinburgh. I’m here for work, so no sightseeing for me(boo!) though it is difficult to avoid the stunning sights of Prince’s Street and The Royal Mile as you walk from Waverly Station. Having finished work for the evening, I wished I’d brought some reading with an Edinburgh inspired flavour. Maybe the next time I visit I will have put together a more comprehensive list of books to read in Edinburgh. In the meantime, here’s an off the top of my head list of books I’ve enjoyed which have an Edinburgh setting:
After You’d Gone– Maggie O’Farrell
The best of all Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, After You’d Gone explores what Alice, languishing in a coma, saw at Edinburgh Waverly Station that was so terrible it made her get straight back on a train to London and walk out in front of a car. I read this in my second year of university before making my housemates read it. For about a month solid we spent every evening crying… in a good way… I think.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie– Muriel Spark
The novel about an Edinburgh school teacher and the unique education she gives her charges, a select clique who become known as the Brodie set. It’s been a very long time (over ten years) since I read this book, but still the immortal understatement that “Hitler was rather naughty” stands out in the memory. I understand it was made into a film starring Maggie Smith who I love, so I need to watch that.
One Day– David Nicholls
You probably need no introduction to the hit novel One Day which follows friends and sometimes star-crossed lovers Emma and Dexter from their graduation in Edinburgh on St Swithin’s Day 1988, and returns to their lives on the same day for the next 20 years before returning to Edinburgh in 1988. Another tear jerker, I’ve met quite a few men who’ve said it made them cry like babies.
The Inspector Rebus Series- Ian Rankin
Again, this series needs very little introduction, but if you’re looking for a starting point into what has been called “Tartan Noir”, then look no further than Knots and Crosses which sees the eponymous Rebus struggling to solve the abduction and strangling of young girls, while receiving strange missives which suggest the murderer maybe someone closer to him than he realises…
I’m planning to drag my boyfriend North of the Wall for a visit next year, so was really pleased to come across this helpful link for more Edinburgh inspired reading, but I’m sure there’s more out there. What books with an Edinburgh connection would you recommend? I’m keen to expand my reading list!
A colleague in work had to go to Paris for a conference recently and was asking for suggestions of things to do in her free time. I mentioned that she should visit Shakespeare & Co. which is across the river from Notre Dame Cathedral.
I visited Paris a few times on school trips, and remember seeing the books lined up on tables outside the shop. But being on a school trip, we were quickly bustled to the Cathedral and I never had a chance to go inside. I’ve been planning to save up for a weekend trip to Paris, to visit the store and see the sights, for a long time now.
Overhearing this, another colleague offered to lend me her copy of Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, a Canadian writer who fled to Paris after receiving a death threat from a thief he’d upset by revealing his name in a true crime novel. Almost penniless he took refuge at Shakespeare & Company, then run by the remarkable George Whitman, who allowed writers, poets and artists to stay in his shop free of charge while they worked on their projects and got back on their feet. In a world obsessed with money, George managed to distance himself from the drive to acquire, using his cash to feed and home relative strangers. The maxim of his store being, “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”
The book is a portrait of a remarkable bookshop, its remarkable inhabitants, but most of all of the remarkable man who ran it. A great read which really does make you think. I read sections of it aloud to my boyfriend (who hates being read to) and even he was interested in the philosophy of the shop. My favourite quote from the book (except the one that compares self publishing to using prostitutes in unfavourable terms):
From wikipedia- sadly I can’t properly reference the Flickr account it came from as the wiki link is dead. Let me know if this is your image!
“’People all tell me that they work too much, that they need to make more money,’ George told me. ‘What’s the point? Why not live on as little as possible and then spend your time with your family or reading Tolstoy or running a bookstore? It doesn’t make any sense.’” Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs Jeremy Mercer