Postcard from the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

I love a castle.

I love the history, the sense of thousands of people who’ve walked the same corridors you’re now walking. I love exploring winding staircases and narrow battlements and cramped cellars. I’m less interested in learning the actual facts of what happened there, in what century, involving which people, and would rather just run around, pretending to be in Game of Thrones or a Philippa Gregory novel; treating the whole place like an acceptable grown-up version of a playground.

But it’s not just any castle that makes it to third on my list of all time favourite castles (yes I really have a list of all time favourite castles. I swear I’m perfectly normal). The Castel Sant’Angelo makes the cut because it is a sprawling maze of interconnected rooms and passageways and you never come out quite where you expect to – perfect for losing yourself from modern life for a day. It feels like nowhere is off limits, which is never usually the case. And there’s nothing that crushes my daydreams about being Cersei Lannister quicker than a cordoned off staircase marked ‘do not enter.’

It’s not on the typical tourist agenda for a trip to Rome because, I suppose, comparatively it’s not really that old. What’s a castle built in the 14th Century AD compared to a Colosseum built in the 1st Century AD? But it just had that bit of magic to it that won me over completely.

This week I’ve been reading… Married Love and other stories by Tessa Hadley

I picked up this book immediately after finishing War and Peace. I picked it up without much thought but I do have to wonder if subconsciously I was craving short stories. After 4000 pages of the same people, places and events being introduced to and done with a character all in 20 pages was a welcome relief.  And whereas in War and Peace I found myself skim reading to get it over with as soon as possible, in Married Love I wanted to savour every word because it was the writing that had all the beauty. Almost like poetry.

The stories in general perhaps had more in common with poetry than a traditional novel. Many of them didn’t really have a notable plot; nothing much changed from beginning to end. Instead of being full-fledged narratives they were more like snippets of stories, brief glimpses into a life, like you’re peering in through a person’s window as you walk down the road.

And because there wasn’t a plot I didn’t get hung up wanting to find out what would happen next. Usually I see long-winded descriptions, character sketches and scene setting as a waste of time, an obstacle to get through to get to the really good stuff: the story. But with no story to worry about I could fully immerse myself in the subtle, delicate writing style.

It’s that lack of a narrative, that uneventfulness, which ties together all the stories. The characters’ imaginations take them on a course that their life never actually does – Shelley expects the worst news about her son, Alec expects the worst news about his sister, Ally takes an unnecessary risk, Kirsten acts without thinking – and they all come out the other side unscathed.

But although the worst never does happy, it doesn’t prevent an overwhelming sense of misery in all the stories. From the slow, introspective writing style and the dreary normality of the lives being portrayed. The dramatic life-defining crescendo might seem the more emotional of the two options but Tessa Hadley articulates so well the quiet melancholy of everyday life that it becomes far more relatable and therefore far more affecting.

Postcard from Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Yesterday afternoon I dropped almost £700 on a return flight to Australia. The stress of it all nearly gave me a panic attack but now it’s done and been triple checked for errors and I can actually start to look forward to three weeks exploring a completely new country. A completely new continent. A completely new hemisphere.

The furthest I have ever been from the UK is Vancouver but we built up to that – flying into Orlando and slowly making our way around America to end in Vancouver. And on the way back we had a day layover in Iceland so the flights never got beyond a manageable length.

London to Brisbane though is a completely different ball game. I leave on the Saturday and don’t arrive until Monday. And how that takes 29 hours makes my brain boggle but even with my mental block against time zones I can tell you – that’s a hell of a long time.

Will it be worth it? Of course it will. Because even though I’ll probably get bitten by poisonous spiders, lose limbs to great white sharks, spend the whole time suffering from sunburn and have spent over two grand in the process I’ll get to see places that look as close to paradise as I can imagine.

This week I’ve been reading… Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (and I won’t be sleeping again)

I’ve been on a bit of a thriller hype the past few months. It had always been a genre I’ve avoided because, well, I’m a massive scaredy-cat. But I couldn’t ignore all the clamour being made about Girl on the Train so I jumped on that bandwagon. And loved it.

It seems obvious to say it, but it was so gripping, couldn’t-put-it-down, a-real-page-turner – just all the clichés.

And the more thrillers I read the more arrogant I was getting because I just wasn’t finding them that scary. They had moments that made me tense up but nothing that was actually keeping me up at night. I was really starting to think that I had got over my wimpiness.

Well, Dark Places, I take it all back. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (and I won’t be sleeping again)”

New York for a third time

Last week there wasn’t my usual Thursday postcard because instead of being stuck at home writing about travelling I was actually off doing some – jetting off for four days in New York City.

I’ve now been to New York three times and to be honest, I’m just a little bored of it.

I know, I know, cry me a river.

This time more than any other time I’ve been it struck me that despite all the hype and romance, it’s just like any other city – big, noisy and dirty. And that’s just not my thing. As distinctive as the New York skyline is to see out of your window, I’d rather have some rolling hills, a gentle stream and maybe a couple of sheep.

I was also feeling deprived of history. My favourite holiday activity is a trip to something, anything, with a bit of history – a strange thing for the girl who hated history at school and until she discovered Philippa Gregory couldn’t name more than four English monarchs and definitely no foreign ones. A day out at a castle is a guaranteed vacation highlight. For my holiday to the south of Spain later this year I’m already plotting out the schedule for da trips to the Alhambra in Granda and the Alcázar of Seville. New York, and the USA in general, just doesn’t have many places like that. No Tudor buildings or places where people from history have walked – just a sea of concrete and glass. 

But before you all threaten to throttle me in the comments for being so damn miserable about a trip to the holy grail of city break destinations, I should perhaps segue into talking about my three highlights.

Bateaux Dinner Cruise

This is by far one of the fanciest things I’ve ever done. There were people wearing bow ties for crying out loud. Thank god no one cheesily proposed because it was exactly the kind of place where I could imagine that happening. And for good reason because the champagne was flowing, the food was great, there was live music, the Manhattan skyline and a sunset. What more could you want? I imagine it was hugely expensive (my mum is a bit of a splurger when it comes to holidays) but if you can afford it, do it. And make sure to order the chocolate and salted caramel tart for pudding.

Ellen Stardust Diner

There’s definitely a food theme going on here… Unsurprisingly really when America does have the best food in the whole world. Italy? Pff. You can’t get french toast at 9pm in Italy. Ellen Stardust Diner is, as it sounds, a pretty regular American diner, just off Broadway, serving burgers and fries and milkshakes and all that American goodness. What sets it apart is the waiting staff who are all out of work Broadway actors and they take it in turns to sing while they serve you; a mix of songs from musicals, chart hits and classics (the best of the night was Party Like It’s 1999). It all sounds kind of cheesy and I was a little apprehensive going in – after all, I am British, and this did not sound very stiff upper lip. But it was just amazing. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so because we went at 3pm, hardly prime time, and queued for 30 minutes to get in. But totally totally worth it. Don’t bother forking out for Broadway tickets – just eat here every night.

Bryant Park


This is a park with a library in it. I repeat, a park with a library in it. Granted quite a small library but they had enough Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy to keep me going for months. And it’s really pretty with coffee shops (for the necessary food purchases), metal tables,bumbrellas, flowerbeds and an old-fashioned carousel. We visited once on a dreary Friday when it was practically deserted and again at lunchtime on a sunny Monday when it was rammed with office workers escaping their cubicles. And for a moment it made me want to move to London and get an office job, just so I could come and eat my Pret salad with views of the Empire State Building. But only for a moment.

An irrational phobia of reviewing books

I didn’t start this blog as a place to review books. I thought my book content would be all lists, comparisons, thoughtful pieces on the way YA fiction has evolved, well considered arguments on why Mansfield Park is the best Jane Austen novel. And to start off it was mostly like that. I actually resisted writing reviews because, to quote myself, I wanted to be different to ‘every other book blogger doing a review of the books they read.’

But my originality dried up. Or, to put a nicer spin on it, I discovered reviews were quite fun to write. Sometimes because I love the book and need to shout about it every which way I can and others because the book is so horrendously bad that I need a place to let off steam. Continue reading “An irrational phobia of reviewing books”

Recipe: Goat’s Cheese and Honey Pasta

A lot of the meals I make are basically my favourite ingredients thrown together over pasta. And often they end up being less than the sum of their parts – just because I love butternut squash and I love brie doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll go together. And in that example it definitely doesn’t mean they’ll go together, lesson well and truly learnt.

But with this recipe; boy do they all go together. Continue reading “Recipe: Goat’s Cheese and Honey Pasta”

This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

It has actually happened. I have read Gone Girl. After all those months of delays and excuses, reading every other thriller I could get my hands on apart from the one that started the whole craze, I finally pulled it off the shelf.

I’d been putting it off partly because I knew it wouldn’t be able to live up to this fearsome hype it’s amassed and partly because I expected it to be really scary and really addictive, the kind of book that needs a whole day set aside to just devour it and still have time to watch a Disney film afterwards to remind you that the world is in general a cheerful happy place. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn”

Recipe: A hugely inauthentic Mexican brunch

I feel a bit of a fraud calling this a recipe because it’s not really a recipe – it’s just three things that happen to go really well together. Poaching an egg does not require a recipe (and if it did I should be the last one to provide one as they are my cooking kryptonite), guacamole can be store bought and sweetcorn fritters already have a recipe from a previous post of mine. Continue reading “Recipe: A hugely inauthentic Mexican brunch”