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Hello! Welcome to my newsletter for November/December 2019. In this issue:
There have been travels! To darkest Dorset.
Though it would be more accurate to say we brought darkness to Dorset ourselves.
On our first evening at this pretty medieval gatehouse (Landmark Trust) we had a power cut.
Luckily the owners lived next door. They rolled back a pair of giant gates, opened - gasp - a hidden chapel with cobwebby pews, where a fuse box twinkled on the wall.
While they fixed the problem, their daughter Emma, staying with them for the weekend, jollied us with tea. She unlocked another door. We expected another gloomy, dusty interior but instead we saw an immaculately presented, fully furnished Elizabethan manor house. When Emma was a child, her parents took it on as a neglected ruin and brought it gradually back to its original glory. Teacups in hand, we had a magical tour.
My picture here, snapped later through a window, doesn't do it justice. There are proper pictures on the Dorset Life site. High, vaulted rooms with fine plasterwork and carvings. Fireplaces with fluted panelling, tall as an organ in a parish church. A baronial hall with a soaring stone staircase that could grace a castle.
This remarkable place abutted Emma's home when she was growing up - literally, a secret world from the past behind a door, becoming more perfect as her parents restored it.
She told us how she and her siblings had the run of it as children, how she sometimes slept in its bedrooms (despite a ghost), how they used the dining room for grand occasions (and still do). It's now open to the public in summer and by special appointment - find it on Tripadvisor and on the historic houses website

Here's another unexpected find from our travels. In a secondhand bookshop, we could have bought...
...the kit to impersonate a Freemason. For just £24. Is that legal?
Bookish couples might want to stroll on Chesil Beach, as in the novel and film. If you have an argument, be aware that you cannot stomp dramatically away down the causeway. Instead you will be wading on the spot. The stones roll under your feet like a treadmill. You'll get precisely nowhere, you'll lose all your puff and fury and probably sit down and laugh.

Here's another couple enjoying a
sit-down. Defying...

... the signs that say 'please do not walk or sit on the Cerne Abbas giant, especially there'.
Emma mentioned that PD James once stayed at the gatehouse. How exciting! Had she written an entry in the visitors' logbooks?
She might be incognito. Dave and I were without internet, so we couldn't do the obvious and check her handwriting on Google. But a note from a wordsmith of such distinction would surely stand out.
There were four volumes, spanning 25 years. We were occupied for many cross-eyed evenings.
Eventually, this entry impressed us: 'Sherborne Abbey... excellent coffee shop with smoking schoolboys and girls.'
Most visitors wrote only about themselves, but this person was a noticer of strangers. As authors are.
Any other clues? The account began, coyly: 'The three ladies have descended again to occupy another Landmark...' Three ladies, two signatures: The Empress, Lady Philippa. Who was the third? Actually, was Lady P the Baroness James in slight disguise?
Once we were back home, I got on Google.
Here is the handwriting of PD James.
I don't think Inspector Dalgliesh will be requesting our detective services. Eh bien. This is the kind of enjoyably fruitless quest that holidays are about.
Work in progress
Noveling... Now the major work is done (I hope) on Ever Rest, I can concentrate on nuances. It feels like my characters are a company of actors and we've been creating a play. We've done the hard rehearsing. We can relax, deepen the performance. This translates as: much fine fiddling. My head is full of details. Do not disturb.
Editing and mentoring... While working on Ever Rest this month, I fitted in two interesting short pieces of consultancy. I coached a literary novelist to find her plot and helped a relationship counsellor devise a nifty title for her online course. Meanwhile I've had more talks about a ghostwriting project which I hope will happen in the new year.
The Liminal Residency. They hold events for writers in neglected places, then publish limited-edition books of images, impressions and stories. Venues so far include the grounds of a motorway service station, where they found a handbuilt church, and the vast, grassy no-man's land of Heathrow Airport.
I found them on Twitter and scrambled to introduce myself, hoping they were my kind of people. They are. They've just featured a piece from Not Quite Lost on their blog of writing inspired by unusual places (if you know Not Quite Lost you might guess which piece from this photo). I look forward to following their future work. You can follow them too - everything they're doing goes in their newsletter.

Psst... if you're looking for a Christmas gift, Not Quite Lost is known to limber the laugh muscles as well as the liminals.
Also for armchair travellers
If you're buying a gift for armchair adventurers, my friend Mark Horrell, an actual Everest mountaineer who is advising me on Ever Rest (read about him here), has just released the paperback edition of Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo, his memoir of a cycling adventure in Ecuador. He absolutely hates cycling.
I'm currently reading...
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane. I posted about it in my May newsletter and have finally settled to read it. It is epic, nail-biting, perception-shifting.
Macfarlane writes of surprising caverns deep in hillsides, where he clambers down dunes of black sand with just a pinpoint of light from his head torch, a noir storey of darkness that lies under our familiar world. He comes out into sunlight and is overwhelmed, as if the colour green and the sky has just been freshly invented.
He visits urban catacombs in Paris, Budapest and London; also, a salt and potash mine in Yorkshire that is half under the sea and half under the moors, and is so extensive that the workers speed around the tunnels in Ford vans. Worked-out sections of the mine are used by physicists researching dark matter as the salt blocks background radiation.
If you're buying this book as a present (including for yourself) I recommend you pair it with a bar of dark salted caramel chocolate (I tried this one by Raw Halo). Read page 63 about physicists at work in the salt warrens, scrutinising electrical chambers for the flashes of elusive particles.
Then bite. Notice how your mouth fills with silky darkness, sparkling with crystalline salt, exactly as your mind is sparkling with Macfarlane's thoughts.
Underland: A Deep Time Journey
Win a year's subscription to the
London Review of Books
Would you like a free subscription to the London Review of Books? I renewed mine and can now nominate a friend for a free 12-month subscription. So I'm offering it to you guys. Reply to this email by 12th December and I'll pick the winner from a hat. The winner will need to send me a home address so I can process the gift. And - good news - it's valid for any location in the world, not just the UK. To enter, email me here.
On the blog
On my blog this month I had a piece about choosing an editor - questions to ask, what to expect when working with them. How to find the editor that's right for you. I also have a post to help you keep in touch with your writing routine when festivities disrupt your plans.
A little horse
Val and I are hacking and schooling again after our mishap last month, but I've taken the incident as a reminder not to rush or take anything for granted.
With some things he's impressively calm. Ask him to jump a log in the woods? He pops over expertly, never gets silly. Approach him with clippers? His previous owner said he was used to them. With us, he needed a sedative injection.
Much depends on who's doing what. The farrier says he's jumpy if anyone drops a tool. I've always handled him robustly so he accepts sudden noises as normal, flapping rugs vigorously, kicking my grooming kit out of the way. He doesn't even twitch an ear. I was worried about bonfire night, when the fireworks were like the Blitz, but he noted that the other horses didn't turn a hair - and settled to his haynet, like the old-timers.
A friend who also recently acquired a horse remarked to me: 'they remain new for a long time'. This year, my little horse has had a lot to get used to.
Are we really in December already? Christmas seems unimaginable, but I'm about to start writing cards and letters (here's a blogpost on writing Christmas letters, if that's on your to-do list) and it will probably seem more real then.
When the holidays arrive, I hope yours will be welcome and relaxing, and full of the people you like to do pointless nothings with.
See you in 2020
R xxx
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Copyright © 2019 Roz Morris, All rights reserved.

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