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History lessons

There was more sad news this week with the sudden death of the author Hilary Mantel. It's come as a terrible shock and such a loss but, as various commentators have said, we are fortunate that she left us with such an extensive, magnificent body of work.

She will be best known, of course, for her trilogy about Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell. As critics challenged her portrayal of characters of this period, notably Thomas More, she said: “History is a process, not a locked box with a collection of facts inside,” she says. “The past and present are always in dialogue – there can hardly be history without revisionism."

And why were these books so popular? Guardian reviewer Claire Armitstead claimed that they held "a distressed glass up to our own times". Though Mantel was wary of direct comparisons: “I wouldn’t be happy to write the kind of moralising, manipulative fiction that forces correspondences between past and present.” But she acknowledged that “the same questions preoccupy us: how to live, how to govern, how to mediate between the world as we find it and the world we would like to see. The resonances change day by day. As events evolve, fiction evolves too, in the minds of readers as well as writers. It doesn’t stay fixed on the page, constant to one meaning.”

So what can Cromwell’s story teach the politicians of today, she was asked? Be careful. You are no longer beheaded for your failures, but the Tower of London is still standing.”

Our book group meets tomorrow to discuss a debut novel imagining the life of the mother of Richard III, 'Cecily'. I'm sure we'll have much to ponder in addition to this particular book, in the light of this week's news. If you're thinking of coming along to the meeting, please reply to this email to let me know.

But as the novelist Sarah Perry wrote movingly for the Telegraph: "All afternoon, I have wondered what it means for a great writer to die. Is Homer dead? Is Woolf? Is any voice silent as long as it is heard? There will be no day when we do not need her, and no day when we cannot find her."

Thank you for reading.

by Raynor Winn

This is the third in a series of books which started with 'The Salt Path'. In that bestselling memoir, Raynor Winn recounted how she and her husband, Moth, decided to walk the South West Coast Path after the loss of their home and livelihood and with him having received the diagnosis of a terminal condition. That walk proved a life-saver for both of them and here she describes how Moth still needs to keep walking.

With Moth's health declining again, Raynor contemplates embarking on another epic walk. It has proved miraculous in the past, but she wonders if it will continue to offer respite from the relentless progress of his illness.

They both long for the isolation, wilderness and beauty of the natural environment, fending for themselves with their food and belongings on their backs. It has given them physical, mental and emotional renewal before, but they're getting older and Moth is becoming more ill. 

The decision is made to walk the Cape Wrath Trail which covers more than two hundred miles of Scotland's remote and mountainous landscape. But there's also a trek from Northumberland to the Yorkshire moors, Wales to the South West and back to the Coast Path - in total, a thousand-mile journey all the time wondering what their future has in store.

There's humour and resourcefulness in overcoming the weather, the characters they meet along the way and the terrain (thought there's a lot of time devoted to ill fitting boots and blisters!). And Raynor often worries about how Moth is coping and whether they will reach their destination(s). 

I find Raynor's writing quite compelling so couldn't put the book down, and once again it's an inspiring account of the restorative power of being close to nature, and to having a simple goal of getting from A to B. It's also got a beautiful cover, created by the printmaker Angela Harding who spoke to us about her work, online last year. 

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.

The Season of Giraffes
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Emily Sutton

I'm always drawn in by the illustrations of Emily Sutton so couldn't resist picking up this new picture book by Nicola Davies, written with conservationist Kisilu Musya, explaining about giraffes and climate change.

Giraffes were once a part of daily life in Niger and appreciated by the people who lived there. "Their beauty is a blessing on our land," they said.

The giraffes were useful too. They helped the trees spread their seeds and so more trees grew, giving shade and shelter to the people, and cooling the earth.

But then things changed. The giraffes were killed for meat, the trees were felled for firewood, the land was filled with roads and buildings. 

Eventually, the people realised how much they needed and wanted the giraffes back, and so they worked at providing the habitat needed for the creatures to thrive. And now there are many more giraffes again. 

Supplementing the gently-told story of this particular region and group of giraffes are a few passages explaining conservation, climate change and how we can all do our part. There are also more details about these spectacular animals - for example, there are nine different kinds of giraffe living in different countries and habitats in Africa. A beautiful, touching and hopeful book. Wonderful!

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group

at St John's Hall, Woodbridge

Monday 26 September 8pm 
talking about...

by Annie Garthwaite

The first days of the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, Cecily Neville, wife of Richard Plantagenet, mother to Edward IV and Richard III. 
Everyone's welcome to join in the discussion. Please reply to this email to receive details about the meeting. 
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