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Book Woman: books that shaped my life

14th October, 2015 Miscellaneous

A recent request from my granddaughter for bedtime books to read to my great-granddaughter stimulated early memories for me. I loved being read to but it didn’t happen often enough and I was soon reading them myself, overcoming incipient dyslexia to do so. A powerful incentive. I learned by seeing the words. Back, then, as now, I needed to read. It spread my imagination far and wide – and still does. My worst nightmare is to be without a good book. But I don’t go in for great language or the book of the century. Nothing pretentious. I want to be entertained and stimulated. Taken inside, or outside, of myself. Or to meet my own experiences face to face in someone else’s mirror.

Annie Dillard

That’s me!

I have over 2000 books at home, my essential reference library in dire need of proper cataloguing and putting back on the shelves. I love the challenge of researching obscure facts and collect very old lapidaries – crystal books. While the internet may be useful for a quick delve, the information there is often dubious. It always needs checking out and taking back to the primary source. There’s nothing quite like settling down with an actual book. One that shares knowing not necessarily the received wisdom, which can so often be wrong. So it’s no wonder I’ve been inspired to write so many myself. Or that the South American shaman I trained with dubbed me ‘Book Woman’.

book woman

This picture makes me feel right at home! Image:

As a child I was forever in trouble for hanging out of bed trying to edge my book into the light from the landing when I should have been asleep. When I was older I discovered the joys of a torch under the covers. Now it’s a Kindle. So, although Charlie-Skye is just coming up to 2 and might be a bit young for my favourite books, it was a great delight to return to those joys of my childhood – and those of my granddaughters as I read many a story to Charlie’s mother and auntie. It is exciting to see what’s new for kids too. Magic!

Magic Book

Ever since I discovered astrology I’ve assigned star signs to the characters in the books I read – and the novels I write. They are so distinctive and archetypal. A fascinating combination of traits. Which led me to write Astrocharacters: creating compelling characters with astrology to help other authors shape their characters with this wonderful tool.

So, in case you’re wondering what shapes an author, here are some of my favourites in no particular order.

Winnie the Pooh

My first memories include the inimitable Pooh Bear. Yes I know we’ve had Pooh in my blog several before but I still love my little Poohlosopher and Tigger (surely a Leo?) is a favourite of Charlie’s I’m glad to say. His bouncing always brings a smile to my face. So needless to say Pooh was first on my list.


How do you spell love

Yes, I know, Pooh’s been Disneyfied and hijacked by other people. But the simple fun and the wisdom is there. Need I say more?Don't Expect Normal

Which reminds me, I must take Charlie to play Pooh sticks at the river. Can’t have her growing up without knowing that simple pleasure. She already takes great joy in water. Well, she is a little Scorpio after all.

Now We Are Six

Now, here is another story altogether. I was read this poem as a very young child and it really does show how these images sink into our consciousness and become a story to live by. And then we live it out in our daily lives. ‘Halfway down the stairs.’ Only in my mind the title is Halfway Up the stairs, not halfway down. Strange that! Is the glass half empty, or half full? It all depends on how you look at it – and whether you’re an optimistic Sag or not I guess.

StairsHalfway down the stairs
is a stair where I sit.
there isn’t any other stair
quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
where I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up

And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else

This is the sort of biddable child my mother would no doubt have liked me to be. She got a tomboy instead but then she always did say I should have been a boy. Manifestation, manifestation! Be explicit in what you wish for.

Years ago I went to a workshop with the Dutch psychotherapist Erik Bruin (the Bear?!). He asked us what the first nursery rhyme we remembered was. Mine was Halfway Up the Stairs, which you’ll notice is a poem not a nursery rhyme. It has rhythm but not a tune. I was very glad of that because I’m tone deaf and can’t sing a note and Erik then had people singing their nursery rhymes. So I recited mine. But, according to Erik that first remembered nursery rhyme becomes the script for our life. Thank goodness it wasn’t something like Ring-a-ring-a-roses, based on the plague. I’d have been dead long since. But it does seem true. Funny thoughts certainly run around my head. Constantly. Somewhere else instead? Undoubtedly. As readers of this blog will know I’m still learning to stay in the present moment. My imagination takes me to the furthest reaches of our universe and beyond. That really isn’t anywhere at all – and yet it’s everywhere.
And not at the bottom and not at the top? My first placement on the Watkins List of 100 most spiritually influential living authors was – number 49! A place that suits me perfectly. I don’t want to be an unreachable public figure speaking to hundreds of people, or a crystal guru for that matter. I’m not happy on a pedestal. Much to easy to topple off! I’m happy to let others be that. I want to stay approachable and grounded. I like working with smallish groups and sharing what I’ve discovered. I love researching the crystals and delving deep into consciousness – although I’m very happy to write best selling books of course.

Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderful and Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Those wonderful deviant art people again. I love that site! I haven’t noticed any dragons in Alice but they do seem to creep in everywhere these days.

“Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

She just had to be a fellow Sag. So many in literature. Not surprising as we’re always asking questions and discovering new things. Intrepid travellers too. Oh how I enjoyed popping down a rabbit hole to join Alice in that amazing world of hers. Again, it’s no wonder I love shamanic journeying and nothing is ‘out of the ordinary’ to me. Expanded consciousness is a great thing! I’ve known it all my life. I’ve already bought Charlie the Dali illustrated version of this book. Having read through a few pages though, I might have to get her a more day-to-day reading version with the original illustrations. Don’t want to frighten her. Dali is rather surreal for a 2 year old, even my great granddaughter. Lewis Carroll has a few cruel twists to his tale. But she’ll love some of the characters Alice meets I’m sure. And every fiction author should remember this:

‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?'”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Ch. 1”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The pictures can be drawn in words, of course, and, as Angela Sewell, a fondly remembered member of my writing group who has now passed onto other things, would say what makes a book is: ‘dialogue, dialogue, dialogue – and don’t forget the colour!’ A precept we all remember.

Christine Hartley, A Case for Reincarnation

Books are the planeThis is it! The book that started it all! The one that made sense of what was happening to me. What I was seeing. And brought me my much loved mentor. I’d always seen ‘the past’. It was all around me as a child and on people’s faces. But it was Christine who taught me how to control that ability and to do the past life readings and healings that help other people understand how the past is impinging on their present. A ‘halfway up the stairs’ moment came when Christine wanted to train me to follow her as a high priestess of the Western Mystery tradition. But I shied away. I had a feeling I’d done that too many times in the past and it wasn’t my path this time around. Memories of ancient Egypt! Was that what made me back away? Or my ingrained lifescript? Power is so open to misuse and abuse. Sometimes I regret not having taken up that invitation. But it’s too late to find out now. And I’m happy with the way my work has gone and how I use my power.

Wind in the Willows, Toad of Toad Hall (and the Alison Uttley books)

I know these are slated these days for their anthropomorphic assignation of human characteristics to animals, but I loved them. This is where I learned my code of life and how to face up to its challenges and laugh in the face of danger – and to accept without judgement the characters you meet every day along the way. As a child I had a pet toad that lived under a rock in the garden and he was a great character who loved his chin being tickled. Who can forget Mr Toad and his new motorcar?

‘The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop,

As it raced along the road.

Who was it steered it into a pond?

Ingenious Mr. Toad!”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Toad falls instantly in love with the motor car the first time he meets one, even though it’s just demolished his – formerly – beloved gypsy caravan. On to a new adventure is his creed. What was I saying about painting pictures with words, how about this, it still leaps off the page to meet me:

poop poop

‘…far behind them they heard a faint warning hum; like the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint ‘Poop-poop!’ wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, It was on them! The ‘Poop-poop’ rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more….
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured ‘Poop-poop!’

Mr Toad

‘They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find, as the Badger had anticipated, a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a bright red (Toad’s favourite colour), standing in front of the house. As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the steps, drawing on his gauntleted gloves.
‘Hullo! come on, you fellows!’ he cried cheerfully on catching sight of them. ‘You’re just in time to come with me for a jolly–to come for a jolly–for a–er–jolly—-‘

Poor old Toad has been banned for his lack of driving skills and I laughed out loud when I read Jonanthan Cainer’s Sag horoscope for today. Talk about synchronicity:

Sagittarius, Thursday, 1 October 2015

SagittariansIt is good that only Sagittarians get to see this. People, born under other signs, wouldn’t understand. If, for example, I were to explain the frustration of Saturn’s presence in your sign, they would feel bemused. ‘What?’ they would say. ‘That’s their only problem?’ Ah, but as you actually belong to this sign, you fully understand what an incredible impediment it is to be the driver of a racing car, temporarily obliged to ride the bus! But as I have already said this week, it is going to the right place, albeit slowly.

I certainly hope so! I quite understand how Toad felt.

Was Mr. Toad a Sag? I don’t think so, more a headstrong Aries, with a dollop of Gemini busily embroidering the truth, and more than a touch of Leo aggrandisement. That’s the sun, moon and Ascendant covered – and probably Mercury too. We are all a combination of signs and characteristics, that’s what makes us interesting.

‘Toad, with no one to check his statements or to criticize in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go. Indeed, much that he related belonged more properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and raciest adventures; and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come off?”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Again, that’s something authors inevitably do. It’s our raison d’etre. It feeds our creativity.

Below is what got me so interested in archaeology – and how the past interweaves with and underlies the present. Indeed, is always present at some level. In this way seeds are sown that flower long after:

‘Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city – a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I just loved that thought. Which also occurs in one of the Alison Uttley books – that story demonstrates how carelessly the treasures are thrown away by the uncomprehending.

This quote so aptly describes my childhood:

“Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

And the young me:

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

N. Mazarin: Cranes Flying South

Cranes Flying South

I read this in my first year at grammar school a dull and grotty Birmingham suburb – except for the nature on my doorstep. Our road was well named, Willowsbrook. I had fields to play in, trees to climb and ponds to explore. Which were concreted over to create a housing estate and a motorway just after I left. A real concrete jungle. But I had plenty of adventures before that. A country childhood in the midst of a city, a real gift. Cranes Flying South introduced me to the wonders of ancient Egypt and other exotic places. It opened my mind to the possibility of travel to a wider world. It’s always stuck in my mind and I managed to find a copy the other day, but so far haven’t found time to read it again. Reviews on Amazon show how it touched other people of my generation too. More anthropomorphism. The purists of today don’t know what they’re missing. Although I’ve noticed it’s been creeping back in for some time. Of course. It resonates so well. Has anyone read The Very Hungry Caterpillar lately? Or even better, The Very Hungover Caterpillar. Charlie loves that one too!

Cranes flying into the heart.

By sugato hazra on 15 Jan. 2006

Karazin’s cranes are no less human than anyone of us – no less competent a story teller than the best among the humans. A bird, no two are born, they see their surroundings, grow up, fly with the group and narrate their experience in the first person seen through the eyes of the brother crane. Maybe if Karazin had been writing today we would have the version through the eyes of his sister. But even boys watch and can tell narratives well enough to captivate readers. The book can catch imagination of the young and the old – it caught mine and my wife’s when we were just about ten. We remember it fondly even today- nearly forty years after.

By J. Woodman on 16 Feb. 2015

I was introduced to this book as part of the school curriculum back in the 1950’s and it left a lasting impression on my childish mind. I have tried many times to find an edition over the years and despite my best efforts had no luck. I was delighted to find through Amazon, that it had been re issued and could not wait for my copy to arrive. I was not disappointed, what a beautiful book. Surely a lesson in life. The Crane’s journey will now be recounted through me to another generation. I just hope that my Grandchildren will treasure this book and take its lessons through life with them.

Another one for when Charlie is older perhaps.

Book Monster

Isn’t he fabulous? That looks remarkably like Charlie-Skye down there on his right.

Elisabeth Haich, ‘Initiation’

This one came highly recommended by Christine Hartley. I don’t care if it’s based on actual factual truth or not. It recounted ‘my Egypt’ and logged my spiritual journey. These were my memories too. The ones that I drew on for ‘Torn Clouds’ and a new novel that’s in course of preparation. I can’t remember where I found this description but it says it all:

‘Written at the request of her advanced students, “Initiation” is an illuminating autobiography that connects the twentieth century European life of internationally beloved teacher Elisabeth Haich and her lucid memories of initiation into the hidden mystical teachings of the priesthood in ancient Egypt. A compelling story within a story emerges detailing the life experiences that catalysed her spiritual path. In an earlier life in ancient Egypt, a young woman is prepared for initiation into the esoteric secrets of the priesthood of the High Priest Ptahhotep, who instructs her step-by-step, consistent with her development, in the universal truths of life. Throughout this extraordinary book, Elisabeth Haich reveals her in-depth insights into the subtle workings of karma, reincarnation, the interconnectedness of individual daily life choices and spiritual development. Elisabeth Haich shares usually hidden truths that only a few rare individuals in any generation, seek, find and communicate to others, enabling the reader to awaken within the essential understanding necessary to enlighten any life no matter what events manifest. In twentieth century Europe, from childhood to adulthood, through war and remarkable meetings, she demonstrates the power of turning the searchlight of one’s consciousness inward and using every life event towards expanding consciousness. “Initiation” is a timeless classic communicated in modern terms inspiring generations of spiritual seekers globally. Whether read as an autobiographical novel unveiling mystical truths or as a unique glimpse into Elisabeth Haich’s exceptional journey to initiation, the personal impact on the reader is profound. To read “Initiation” is to be part of the initiation itself.’

So many more Egyptian books I could include, but that will do for now.

Books are a uniquely portable magic

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I learned to meditate to this one. Well, to the Neil Diamond soundtrack to the movie actually. Which is my funeral music of choice. This is the record I’d run into the waves to save on a desert island. What author can forget that line ‘as a page that aches for a word that speaks on a theme that is timeless’? And ‘Be’ is the Sagittarian goal. Possibly not part of the original text but as I’ve lost my copy in a heap of books to be sorted one day, I’ll stick with the movie version for now. Transformation and transmutation. Jonathan certainly reached another level. Another Sag indicator is the number of questions and the limits he pushes in order to know:

J L Seagull

The Lithica

And finally, for now at least, a stonebook that speaks of ancient initiations and proves that crystals have been used for healing for at least two thousand years. It’s clearly part of a continuing tradition that began long before that book was written and carried on long after the text was forgotten. It silences the sceptics (which I usually write as septics). And I do so like to do that when people make assumptions about ‘new age woo woo’. I so enjoy this poetic book. I quote it whenever I can. This is how the stonelore-keeper creates a talisman:

‘For thrice seven days the mighty wizard fled the bath’s refreshment and his consort’s bed. For thrice seven days a solemn fast maintained. Nor flesh of living thing his strength sustained. Then in the living fount the gem he laves. And in soft garments like an infant swathes. As to a god, he sacrifices brings. And potent spells in mystic murmurs sings. Till moved by fervent prayer and mighty charms, a living soul the prescient substance warms. Then in his hands he bears the thing divine, where kindled lamps in his pure mansion shine. And as her infant son a mother holds, so in his arms the talisman he folds. And thou, if thou wouldst hear the mystic voice, thus do, and in the wondrous thing rejoice.’

It makes me shiver to read it. I remember it so well. It’s how I feel about my crystals. As does this:

‘The wondrous lore that I prepare to show. For all the pests that out of the earth arise, the earth’s ownself the antidote supplies. She breeds the viper, but she to the sage the means presents to quell the viper’s rage. All kinds of gems spring from her bosom wide. And hapless mortals with sure help provide. For all what virtues potent herbs possession, gems in their kind have, nor in measure less. Great is is the force of herbs but greater far the virtues that in stones inherent are. For in the stone implanted mother earth external force, unfading, at its birth.’

Exactly the premise my work is based on. I just love it.

Snakeskin Agate

Snakeskin Agate. Then as now a protection against snakebite.

And how about this. That’s a magical name to conjure with:

Book Igloo

Isn’t this a brilliant idea? I’m tempted to make one myself.

Room without books

Something to remember. Until next time:

Happy ending

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