All posts by mirandasnotebook

Book Club Discussion: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

I’m so excited to be writing a review for the first Miranda’s Notebook Book Club choice! When this post goes live, I’ll be just about to meet everyone attending the London get-together, and I can’t wait to chat about the book in person as well. Here are my thoughts, though, for our online discussion of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier:

Some Background to Jamaica Inn

At 22 years old, Daphne du Maurier got lost with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch as they set out on horseback from Jamaica Inn across Bodmin Moor. Daphne later wrote ‘we ventured out across the moors, desolate, sinister, and foolishly lost our way, to our horror rain and darkness fell upon us, and there we were, exposed to the violence of the night.’ They took shelter in a barn and eventually made their way to safety, but the dread she felt lost on those lonely moors clearly sparked an idea for what would later become Jamaica Inn.  

Bodmin moor, as described by du Maurier in her novel, becomes a character in its own right in the book, and its malevolent, brooding atmosphere is reminiscent of the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights. Gothic novels were certainly an inspiration to du Maurier when writing Jamaica Inn (the opening scene of the book echoes the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and she liked to draw parallels between Cornwall and the Yorkshire moors made famous by the Bronte sisters. Indeed, du Maurier pointed out in her book, Vanishing Cornwall, that the Brontes had a Cornish mother and aunt, inferring that they would have been told Cornish myths and legends as children.

Just as their landscape, as well as stories and legends, inspire the Brontes, so did Cornwall inspire du Maurier, to the extent that her name is forever linked with the area. Jamaica Inn is one of her most gothically dramatic Cornish tales.

My Reactions to the Novel

** Warning! There are spoilers ahead! **

I first read Jamaica Inn as a teenager, so my recollections of it were a little hazy, although it’s hard to forget the brooding menace of the Cornish moors and the rotting inn Daphne du Maurier describes so brilliantly. I found it fascinating to reread the book as an adult, and this time, rather than the plot (which occasionally I found a little heavy-handed), it was the character of the protagonist, Mary Yellan, that I found most intriguing and kept me turning the pages.

Mary’s story begins with plenty of dark foreshadowing: hurtling through the driving rain (so different from the gentle drizzles of her native southern shores) across the Northern Cornish moors in a carriage whose driver urges her to reconsider her journey to Jamaica Inn. ‘That’s no place for a girl,’ he says darkly. Mary has little choice, however, but to continue her journey to her aunt and uncle-by-marriage, who live at the Inn. Having made a promise to her dying mother to go to her Aunt Patience and her husband, Mary is determined to keep her word. On arrival, she is horrified by the appearance of her aunt, who has been broken in body and mind by her brutish husband, Joss Merlyn. Her Uncle is not beyond threatening Mary too, but states he won’t touch her as long as she keeps her nose out of the mysterious business he conducts at the dilapidated inn, that never has any guests. Mary suspects her Uncle to be involved in smuggling, but soon discovers his secret is much more horrifying and deadly when he confides in her after a night of heavy drinking.

Male violence is a theme du Maurier explores many times in her books. The men she writes about are often murderers, with women as their victims. The topics du Maurier touches upon in Jamaica Inn – domestic violence, rape, murder – must have been shocking for her audience at the time (the novel was published in 1936) and many of the scenes are still disturbingly haunting today. In many ways, I feel Jamaica Inn is one of her angriest novels. Reading the book, you sense du Maurier’s wrath against male domination and brute strength on almost every page. Since childhood, du Maurier was intrigued by the differences between men and women (as a child she invented a male alter-ego for herself), and the frustration she felt at the restrictions imposed upon women seep through her writing.

In contrast to the female protagonists in novels such as Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, who are all undeniably feminine, Mary Yellan is quite a different kind of heroine. Described as being like a boy, with a ‘monkey face’, Mary isn’t too delicate to swear in annoyance. She displays a great deal of physical, as well as mental, strength: Mary can walk for hours on the moors; she fights off her would-be rapist and carries out physically taxing domestic tasks. Whenever she’s told she can’t do something (being only a woman), Mary invariably proves her naysayer wrong.

Mary does, however, perceive a weakness within herself: her attraction to Joss’ younger brother, Jem. Unsure whether she can trust him, yet feeling at ease in his presence (whilst still noticing his rather fine hands), Mary riles against herself over accepting Jem’s kisses. In time, however, he is proven worthy of her faith.

In contrast to Mary’s resolute, unwaveringly courageous character, it is the men in the novel who display the most weakness. Joss Merlyn is revealed to be a blustering bully with an insatiable taste for drink. He cannot control his binges or his tongue and at night is tormented by the faces of the men and women he has killed. He is exposed as a mere puppet in the hands of a much more sinister opponent, against whom he is ultimately powerless.

In general, I enjoyed rereading Jamaica Inn, although I do not feel it stands up so well against du Maurier’s later novels. It lacks the depth of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, and, although I admire Mary Yellan, in the end I felt a little dissatisfied with her character. She is brave and headstrong, yes, but what else? Compared to du Maurier’s later protagonists, Mary feels two-dimensional, for all her toughness and courage. Perhaps my dissatisfaction stems from preferring du Maurier when she writes in the first person, when the reader can become truly immersed in the mind of her narrator. I feel, too, that du Maurier is at her very best when she’s exploring the (albeit it often strained) dynamics between men and women in love. Jem and Mary’s romance feels a perfunctory affair, and Jem barely says more than handful of lines in the novel, so there seems little to his character but superficial charm. Jem ‘rescuing’ Mary at the end is rather a let down; surely, after everything else she’d handled unflinchingly alone, Mary could have managed her escape perfectly well by herself? Mary choosing to hop into Jem’s cart and ride off into the distance with him, facing their future together, lacks any real emotional charge. Jem’s uncharming little speech to Mary where he says she’ll probably live to regret her decision, left this reader at least without hope for much romantic bliss between them.

In conclusion, then, I felt Jem and Mary’s relationship was the novel’s biggest flaw, but Daphne du Maurier’s ability to evoke a sense of place and atmosphere and build up heart-thudding suspense is dazzling, and the descriptions of the desolate Cornish moors, coupled with a strong-willed heroine, make Jamaica Inn very much a tale worth reading.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Jamaica Inn, so please do add them in the comments. Here are a few questions as prompts to get the conversation flowing, but feel free to comment on whatever aspect of the story you wish to explore. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Some Questions to Prompt Discussion:

What is your opinion of Mary Yellan? Did you warm to her? What did you like / dislike about her?

Mary is repeatedly told she is ‘only a woman.’ In what ways, though, does she repeatedly show she’s more than a match for her male companions?

Do you find the romance between Mary and Jem believable? Did you feel Mary’s liking for Jem was an unfortunate weakness on her part, or were they well-matched?

What types of evil does du Maurier describe in the book? Does she write about one more convincingly than the other?

What did you think of the Vicar of Altarnun? Did you feel there was a supernatural quality to him?

In what ways does du Maurier use the setting to build up suspense?

Did the novel’s ending come as a surprise to you, or did you guess what would happen?

How do you feel Jamaica Inn compares to du Maurier’s other novels?

Save

T&T 16 | Jane Austen Heroines

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

I’m especially excited about sharing today’s episode, as this week on Tea & Tattle, Sophie and I are discussing one of our very, very favourite authors: Jane Austen. Having both read Pride & Prejudice aged 9 (after being mesmerised by the BBC adaptation), Sophie and I devoured every Jane Austen novel (as well as her letters and biographies about her) throughout our teens. We still regularly reread the books, and of course Sophie’s teaching at Oxford covers some Jane Austen (apparently she’s just about to start teaching Emma – I wish I could be in her class!).

Our love for Austen’s delightful heroines was certainly one of the building blocks of our friendship, and we exchanged many a letter as teenagers recounting our opinions of each novel. Today’s conversation, then, covers very familiar territory, as we decide which Austen heroines are our favourites (it’s almost impossible to choose!), and the important life-lessons we have learnt from each of them.

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to hear how Anne, Elizabeth, Emma, Catherine and Elinor have influenced our lives and continue to inspire us.

subscribe to Tea & Tattle newsletter for weekly updates

The Simple Things | February (List #01)

The Simple Things | Flower Crown Headpiece

I felt it was time for another round-up chat, sharing some of the simple pleasures I’ve been enjoying lately. I thought it would be fun to turn this into a semi-regular feature (akin to my book round up posts, which I had originally planned to be monthly, but I think more realistically will be every other month or so). I’ve been thinking more and more lately about ways to slow down the rhythm of my days; to appreciate each moment and take joy in small things.

M A K I N G     A     F L O R A L     C R O W N

The Simple Things | Flower Crown Headpiece

My lovely friend Talitha invited me along to a floral wreath making workshop with the Flower Appreciation Society, as part of an airbnb ‘London experience.’ We all gathered for tea at the Hackney City Farm cafe before choosing some pretty blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market, and then jumped in a taxi to the flower studio to learn how to make our crowns.

I can’t imagine it will come as a shock to anyone that I’m rather partial to flowers. They’re a simple pleasure that never fail to make me happy, and I love having flowers in the home, as well as seeing them growing wild in the countryside or planted in parks and the grounds of beautiful stately homes.

Much as I appreciate everything floral, however, I hadn’t ever done a floristry workshop before, so I was very excited to learn how to make a headpiece. A florist once told me that flowers are often used in therapy, to help patients feeling anxious or depressed, but I was still surprised by the calming influence I felt as I bent my head over my crown. Everyone was very concentrated on the task at hand: carefully selecting each flower head to use and delicately taping the stems to wire. We munched chocolate and ginger biscuits, sipped tea and chatted sporadically, delighting in the abundance of gorgeous bouquets before us.

Another girl mentioned how therapeutic it was to work with flowers, and I agreed with her, but what also felt so good was to be completely focused on a single (and fun!) task; there was no where else I should be, no nagging chore at the back of my mind. I gave myself up completely to the joy of deciding whether a rose or ranunculus should come next along my wreath and felt wonderfully relaxed.

After completing my crown, I fastened it round my head, wrapped up the generous bunch of left-over flowers I was pressed to take home and waved goodbye to Talitha at the bus stop. I sauntered along the street to Haggerston station (getting some rather odd looks as passersby took in my flower-bedecked head), and reflected on what a happy morning I’d spent.

B R U N C H     W I T H     F R I E N D S

The Simple Things | Pancakes at The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant, London

I was lucky enough to get to try out the new Gate Vegetarian Restaurant breakfast and brunch menu (of course, I opted for pancakes), which was delicious (remember my lunch there?). I took a friend along with me, and it reminded me that brunch is probably my favourite way to enjoy a meal out with friends. Lunch (at least during the working week) can feel too rushed, and supper can often be overly-lengthy affairs, leaving me tired the next day.

When brunching, though, everyone enjoys lingering over the teapot; you can take pleasure in a long conversation, but still have the satisfaction of the day spread out before you, hopefully filled with more fun plans.

N E W     P J S

The Simple Things | New Pjs

I’ve been in desperate need of new pjs for a while, but hadn’t found a pair I liked. I love silky, button-down pyjamas, but wouldn’t ever want a pair that is actually silk. Apart from being horrendously expensive, they’re tricky to clean (who really has time to hand wash?!). Perhaps for one’s wedding night (although, in all honesty, that’s probably the one night I wouldn’t opt for pjs…), but apart from a special occasion, I’m happy with materials I can throw in the washing machine, at least when it comes to nightwear.

I was excited, then, when I realised Ted Baker (always a favourite of mine – the florals!) was doing an affordable collection of nightwear and lingerie for Debenhams. Luckily for me, I had a £50 Debenhams voucher to use up, so I went along the other day in search of the perfect pjs. I really loved the Ted Baker selection, but unhappily they were completely sold out in my size. Just when I was resigning myself to the ultra baggy look, I noticed this pair by Savannah Miller for Debenhams. They had my size in stock, and I pounced, completely in love with the Liberty-esque paisley print.

It’s amazing how a very simple addition to your wardrobe can add a lot of joy, but I really am quite swept away by these pjs and am already planning on packing them for pretty much every upcoming trip I’ve got planned.

G O O D     R E A D S

The Simple Things | The Good People by Hannah Kent | Pretty Books | Books Photography | Books Flat Lay

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of good books lately. Pachinko (out at the end of the month in the UK) is wonderful, and I’m currently immersed in Hannah Kent’s The Good People.

I’ve also rediscovered my taste for magazines. I hadn’t read any for a while, but now I’m thoroughly enjoying The Simple Things, Harper’s Bazaar (the recent issues have just been excellent; I no longer buy Vogue etc, but Harper’s is always a treat, as there’s always interesting and thought-provoking content, alongside sumptuous images) and Lionheart Magazine.

S U S S E X     M O D E R N I S M

The Simple Things | Two Temple Place | Sussex Modernism

I popped along to Two Temple Place last week to see the Sussex Modernism exhibition, and I absolutely loved it! I’m already planning a return trip at the start of March, as there was a lot to take in, and as entry is free, I’m determined to make the most of access to this beautiful building, which is only open a few months a year.

Sussex Modernism is definitely a must see for lovers of all things Bloomsbury Group and Charleston. Highlights for me were: a beautifully painted chest by Duncan Grant; Vanessa Bell’s self-portrait; gorgeous editions of some of Virginia Woolf’s books; paintings by Peggy Angus, as well as a letter written by her to John Piper, and an Eric Ravilious print of Furlongs.

The exhibition is on until April 23rd, so if you’re in London, do go! Also, I can recommend the cafe, where I enjoyed a very nice light lunch and attractive surroundings. Oh, and don’t miss the adorable pug sign at the building’s entrance! I think it’s my favourite in London.

What’s been making you slow down and smile more lately? I’d love to know!

P.S. For weekly London recommendations, sign up to my newsletter. A postcard sharing a favourite haunt of mine will land in your inbox every Wednesday!

Weekend Journals | Cornwall

This interview is in celebration of ‘romance,’ February’s blog theme of the month, as well as the Miranda’s Notebook Book Club choice, Jamaica Inn, which is set in Cornwall. 

Cornwall is definitely a county steeped in romance, conjuring as it does haunting and dramatic love stories, such as Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek and the Poldark series. The vivid, beautiful scenery lends itself well to tales of love and adventure, and has long been an inspiration for artists as well, including some of my favourites: Barbara Hepworth and Winifred Nicholson.

Known for its beautiful scenery, cultural richness and innovative food scene, Cornwall still manages to keep its secrets well, with many of its most inviting spots remaining largely undiscovered. Luckily for us, however, the fabulous team behind Weekend Journals dedicated the first in their series of gorgeous guidebooks to disclosing many of Cornwall’s hidden gems.

Weekend Journals was founded by the lovely Camille (Milly) Kenny-Ryder, alongside her husband, Simon, and brother Gabriel (who’s responsible for the beautiful photography). Milly is an instagram / blogger friend of mine whom I met on my trip to Paris last summer, and her blog and instagram account clearly showcase her exquisite taste in all things food and travel related. I love her beautiful Cornwall guide, and I was delighted when she agreed to sit down with me and share about her process in creating Weekend Journals, as well as some of her top Cornwall recommendations. Be warned, though: as soon as you read this, you’ll want to book a holiday to Penzance immediately (I know I do!).

Weekend Journals CornwallCamille Kenny-Ryder, co-founder of Weekend Journals

MN: How did your interest and love for Cornwall begin?

CKR: I come from a very big family (I’m the eldest of 4 kids) so we never had very much money to go far away on holidays. My parents are both artists, so they loved going to Cornwall because of the art scene and beautiful pottery there. We’d all get bundled up in the car and drive for hours and hours to the deepest, darkest depths of Cornwall, right at the bottom near Penzance. I used to go a lot as a child on B&B holidays there, and then when I got married to Simon, his family are from Cornwall so we would go together a lot. I found out that it was quite likely Simon and I played on the same beach as children, which is hilarious!

Writing the book came about because I was getting asked to write about a lot of new things in Cornwall on my blog, and I felt like there were all these things happening there, like new hotels and restaurants, and there wasn’t anything very modern or design-led in the guidebooks section for Cornwall. I thought that was a shame, as it’s such a popular place for people to travel to for the weekend. I saw there was a gap in the market, and I thought I’d shed some light on it!

MN: What was the self-publishing process like?

CKR: Really hard! If I knew now how much work it would be and how many new things I’d have to learn, I maybe wouldn’t have embarked on it. I have to say it is very rewarding, though, and – not having a publisher – we got to have all the creative control. We didn’t have anyone to answer to and could make all the decisions. That also means you can make all the mistakes, but you come out of the process knowing, not only how to write a book, but also how to design a book. Even knowing how to buy a barcode – things like that, that you never would have thought about before. It was a massive hurdle – there were so many things to overcome – but it was really rewarding when we did it.

Weekend Journals Cornwall

MN: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

CKR: I feel Simon dealt with a lot of the biggest challenges! I think having to multitask so much was a huge challenge. The actual writing of the book seemed only about 2% of the work involved, like finding out about distribution, designing the book and so on. Simon taught himself how to use InDesign and created the whole layout of the book, as well as designing our website.

MN: What made you want to create a physical book, rather than an online product?

CKR: I’m a very tactile person; I’ve always loved physical objects, and I love books. As a child I was always making books and diaries out of pieces of paper. I like having an object, rather than something just on my phone, and I felt that I wanted to put my words and my pictures in something that wasn’t just on the internet.

I’ve had the idea to do a guidebook for years, but I wanted to do it about somewhere that is still a little undiscovered. Although everyone knows about Cornwall, I soon realised speaking to the locals there, that, for the most part, places that tourists were going were completely different from the places that locals went. There’s a place called Potager Garden that the owner of a coffee shop we went to told me about, for instance. At first he was quite cagey, and didn’t want to tell us about it, as he said he didn’t want everyone going there, but when he found out Simon’s family are from Cornwall, he warmed up!

So that was the idea: I wanted to put all of these special places I’d found in a physical book, that someone going down to Cornwall for a wedding or something could take with them, and could spend the next day exploring a few places that were still undiscovered.

Weekend Journals Cornwall

MN: Do you have a particular area of Cornwall that you love?

CKR: There are a few areas that I really love for different reasons. I like Penzance because I feel it’s having a moment right now. It’s near to St Ives, which everyone adores! St Ives is like the pretty older sister, but Penzance has also got so much history and so much to offer. Over the past 5 years, chefs have started to see it as a real foodie destination as well, and there are a lot of interesting restaurants in Penzance. The Jubilee Pool has just reopened too, which is this amazing outdoor lido that’s totally stunning and has been around since the 1930s. There are lots of nice little art galleries too.

MN: If you could pick one – and there are so many lovely ones in the book! – which would be your favourite Cornish restaurant?

CKR: It’s so hard to pick, especially as I love eating so much! Everyone knows about Rick Stein and all the big Cornwall chefs, but one place I loved discovering for the book was a place called The Shore, which is actually in Penzance. The whole restaurant is run by only one guy, who’s worked in Michelin star restaurants for the last 10 years, and he uses all the fresh, local produce, and the food is amazing; definitely edging towards a Michelin star. The food is really affordable, though, and does a fantastic job showcasing Cornish ingredients.

I also really love Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, which is the 1 star restaurant run by Nathan Outlaw [there’s a fantastic interview with Nathan Outlaw at the back of Milly’s guide  – M]. It’s absolutely adorable, tucked away in this old, historic house, and it’s quite small so there are very few seats. Eating there is great chance to taste Outlaw’s expertise in cooking fish, but at much more affordable prices and it’s much more low-key and casual than his 2 star restaurant, which is nearby. I always recommend people go there.

Weekend Journals Cornwall

MN: What are the cultural aspects of Cornwall that you appreciate the most?

CKR: I think there is a lot of amazing art in Cornwall, but what I’ve discovered more recently are some of the incredible gardens. We went to the Isles of Scilly, a collection of islands just off Cornwall, which are just magical. There’s an amazing garden there that has tropical plants from all over the world, and it feels so exotic – you could be anywhere in the world! There’s also a sculpture garden quite near to Penzance that is beautiful as well.

I also enjoy spotting literary references – like going to see the lighthouse from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and seeing why Cornwall has inspired so many brilliantly talented and creative people. Cornwall really has an incredible atmosphere, that is so different from London life, and it’s so refreshing to just sit by the sea and enjoy it.

Weekend Journals Cornwall

MN: What’s next for Weekend Journals?

CKR: We’ve been really delighted by how enthusiastic people are about Britain. My family are from the South of France, so I’m desperate to do one on the South of France, but then I’m also aware that it’s good to appreciate and explore more of Britain, especially as travel abroad is getting more expensive. And I feel there is a need for quality guidebooks about places that Londoners and people like me can visit for the weekend in Britain. Very vaguely, then, we’re thinking of Somerset next!

You can connect with Milly through her instagram account and blog, and the Cornwall guidebook can be ordered here. For more Cornish tips and inspiration, follow @weekendjournals.

(all photographs in this blog post courtesy of Weekend Journals)

Have you ever been to Cornwall before? Are you tempted to plan a holiday now?

P.S. We’re discussing Jamaica Inn a week from today! I’ve been loving the pictures people have put up on Instagram of the book. Have you finished it yet?! 

T&T 15 | A Chat With Carol Dyhouse

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Happy Valentine’s Day! This week, Sophie joins me for the first time in a Tea & Tattle interview. We are in conversation with the social historian and author, Carol Dyhouse, to discuss Carol’s fascinating new book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire. Our chat ranged from Byron, to Mr Darcy and present-day literary ‘heartthrobs,’ and Carol offered a compelling perspective on what the cultural history of the ‘heartthrob’ can teach us about women, desire and social change.

Sophie and I questioned Carol on the subject of male and female ‘glamour,’ the ways in which what young girls watch and read influence their romantic ideals as women, and why romance novels have a long history of being ridiculed. We also united in a shared love of Georgette Heyer, with Carol describing which Heyer novels she loves best (they’re definitely Tea & Tattle favourites too!).

Hit play for a fascinating discussion on the ways in which culture and society influence women’s perception of the opposite sex and what they consider to be a figure of desire.

Happy Listening!

Fun Things to See and Do | February 2017

Fun Things to See and Do February 2017

The shortest month of the year, February always seems to come and go in the blink of an eye. Before the month quite escapes you, however, here are some fun things to see and do:

1/ Head to Tate Britain to see the David Hockney exhibition, which is getting some fantastic reviews. I’m going later in the month with the lovely Alice Stevenson (remember my interview with her?).

2/ Celebrate your girlfriends. Valentine, what Valentine? Apparently it’s all about Galentine’s Day now, and – although you don’t need a specific day to celebrate the fabulous women in your life – it’s definitely worth taking some time this February to acknowledge how much your gal pals mean to you.

3/ Do some match-making. Now, Emma Wodehouse has taught me the dangers of meddling too much in the affairs of others, but a well-meant introduction can never be a bad thing, right?! Personally, I’d consider even Emma’s interventions preferable to the horrors of anything app + dating related.

4/ Pick up a copy of Hannah Kent’s new novel, The Good People, which has just been released in the UK. I loved Hannah’s first book, Burial Rites, and I’m going to her talk about The Good People at the Piccadilly Waterstones tonight. I can’t wait!

5/ Keep on eye open for the first shoots of Spring as you take walks, and fill your home with flowers. Hyacinths are currently filling my living-room with scent, and I have a few sprigs of blossom in a vase that I love to sit and admire when I have my tea in the morning.

6/ Bake your own bread. London is going through a real cold spell at the moment, and there’s nothing quite as comforting as the smell and taste of freshly baked bread to enjoy with some soup for lunch.

7/ See a show. I’m a big fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, and the Pirates of Penzance at the London Coliseum sounds hugely entertaining.

8/ Go out for brunch and order pancakes (note: Shrove Tuesday is 28th February). I’m tempted to try the pancake stack at LLS, a new(ish) cafe in Hampstead (although as they’re gluten free and vegan, I’m not sure they’re naughty enough for a pre-Lent binge…).

9/ Start a journal chronicling a favourite activity: knitting projects accomplished, books you’ve read, exercise goals, recipes cooked, wines bought & tasted etc. It’s a fun way to keep track of your year and honour a favourite pastime. I started a books only instagram account (@mirandasbookcase) to keep track of my recent reads, and I’m loving it!

10/ Invest in some attractive nightwear to make cosy evenings at home that much more pleasurable. I love the Ted Baker for Debenhams collection.

++ A Few More Things ++

Organising the first Miranda’s Notebook Book Club meet-up!! (This definitely tops the list!).

Going on an ‘air bnb experience’ event with the lovely Talitha. Flower crowns are involved, so I’m excited!

Indulging my love for all things Bloomsbury by attending the Vanessa Bell and Sussex Modernism exhibitions.

Trying out the new breakfast menu at The Gate.

Celebrating a good friend’s achievement at The Bloomsbury Club Bar (I’ve been with friends once already this month and am happy to be going back; it’s got a great atmosphere!).

Going to the cinema. I really want to see Hidden Figures and Jackie.

How about you? What’s on your list to enjoy this February?

P.S. Check out my suggestions from last year. Also, a great savoury crepe recipe (definitely naughty enough).

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

Written in celebration of ‘romance,’ February’s blog word of the month. 

This article is a contributor post by Claire Jones. As well as being a fantastic writer, Claire is known amongst her friends as always having exceptional food and book recommendations. I knew she’d be the perfect person to write about her most romantic London meals, and this fabulous list, from the most beautiful proposal to a perfect date night, definitely has my heart fluttering! – Miranda

The 5 Most Romantic Meals I’ve Had in London

by Claire Jones

The most personal of these romantic meals was a picnic in Kensington Gardens where my boyfriend – now husband – proposed. Picnics have always been special to us, marking several defining moments in our relationship, so it was the perfect way to pop the question in a semi-secluded area beneath a tree. London spoils us with a variety of romantic picnic spots and shops, delis, or restaurants that provide lush picnic food. We chose to go to the nearby Whole Foods for cheese, charcuterie, and pink champagne. We had brought our picnic bag from home that, unbeknown to me, carried new picnicware, our cutlery and napkins from home, and a surprise ring box. Even if the picnic is not going to be as momentous as a proposal one, it’s still a delightful way to while away a dry afternoon in London, spending quality time together.

Our engagement came in two parts: the following evening we celebrated at City Social, Jason Atherton’s Michelin starred restaurant in Tower 42. We toasted our future with quirky, imaginative cocktails while looking over the city at dusk; we moved from aperitifs to a secluded table that looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the Gherkin. A year later we celebrated our wedding in the private dining room, again looking out at the city lights.

A highlight of City Social is the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce to share – what’s more romantic than a dessert between two?! If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or you are simply not inclined to share food, then there is also a delectable cheese trolley.

Love is in the air. There are now several restaurants in London skyscrapers that provide breathtaking views of London, but Duck & Waffle is the highest and does so twenty four hours a day. Watching the sun rise together high above the city is a special experience to have but it helps that breakfast is great too! Order individual dishes but be sure to share a portion of the signature duck & waffle, the sweet and savoury components complementing each other as all good relationships should.

Whoever said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, has never eaten in Hawksmoor… Hawksmoor’s steak is the way to everyone’s heart. Purveyors of the best steak in London, it’s not a conventionally romantic venue but it makes for a wonderful date night. I prefer the ambience of the Seven Dials restaurant but each of the Art Deco outposts offer elegance, fantastic food and drinks, plus unsurpassed levels of customer service. Hawksmoor offers sumptuous, indulgent food and a well-stocked bar for pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks.

Situated in The Berkeley, Marcus is the eponymous two Michelin starred restaurant owned by Marcus Wareing. Whether you opt for the seasonal tasting menus or a la carte, both using British ingredients, Marcus is an unforgettable meal. It is a restaurant that creates memories while serving precision cooking and an extensive wine list. The Berkeley is an impressive venue and the restaurant is highly acclaimed and deservedly so. Desserts are especially sensual and well-recommended. Marcus is very much a special occasion restaurant and one to go to when romancing or being romanced, to wow or be wowed.

Paris may be considered the city of love but London is most certainly a city of romance.

***

Claire Jones is originally from Glasgow, but now lives in London and works in publishing. You can follow her adventures in London and beyond through her fabulous instagram account. If you like adorable pictures of cats and great food and book recommendations, then Claire should definitely be on your ‘following’ list.

***

Goodness, I can’t wait to try out all of these restaurants! I completely agree with Claire that Hawksmoor is the perfect setting for a date: steak is certainly a way to my heart, and one of the best dates I’ve been on was at the Covent Garden Hawksmoor branch. And Marcus sounds the perfect setting to get swept off my feet…. I love how in the end, though, Claire’s most romantic meal was a simple picnic in a London park.

How about you? What are some of the most romantic meals you’ve ever had? Are you keen to try any of the restaurants Claire recommends?

For more London tips, sign up for my newsletter:

T&T 14 | The 5 Love Languages

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle Podcast, Sophie and I delve into the topic of The 5 Love Languages, a bestselling book by Gary Chapman. This book is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to make the most of both their romantic and platonic relationships, and Sophie and I had a lot of fun deciding which ‘love language’ we speak (we think we’re actually bilingual!). The 5 Love Languages are: words of affirmation; quality time; gifts; physical touch and acts of service. Listen to the episode to find out which resonated particularly with us, and how learning more about the 5 Love Languages shed light on our relationships, past and present!

Happy Listening!

P.S. Sophie is visiting me in London this afternoon, and we’ll try to post a few instagram stories. If you’d like to see what we’re up to, follow along on instagram: Sophie (@sophie_perdita) and Miranda (@mirandasnotebook)

A Writing Week in Geneva

back in Geneva ~ the gentle pleasures of a writing week ~ seeing friends ~ exploring the Old Town

Whenever the plane touches down in Geneva, I feel as though I’ve come home. Having spent my first 5 years of existence, and, later, my last 3 years of high-school, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and lake of this corner of Switzerland, Geneva always has a strong hold on my memories and my affection.

This time, Mum and I flew to Geneva for a week, to have a little visit with my Dad and also to enjoy a week of relaxation after a month of us both battling the horrendous winter bugs that have been going around.

Well, I say relaxation, but for me the week was really a chance to work hard and catch up on writing, podcasting and blogging tasks. It felt refreshing to get away from the distractions of London and concentrate on knocking items off my to-do list. During the day, I wrote, researched, emailed and audio-edited, and in the evenings I’d curl up with a book. Rather than a room of my own, I got to enjoy a whole flat, nestled up high over-looking the rooftops of Geneva, from which to write. I think Virginia Woolf would have approved!

Of course, I managed to get out and about and have some fun too. I met up with old friends from high-school over wine and cheese one night and lobster rolls from a food truck near the United Nations the next. We revisited favourite cafes and streets, marvelling anew at how Geneva manages to remain magically very much the same, even 11 years on.

The Old Town is always my favourite, with its twisting cobbled streets and beautiful doors with impressive engravings and elaborate, imposing knockers. There’s a calming quality to the city’s colour palette of grey stone and brown wood, especially in the winter when the streets are quieter.

It was very cold while we were there, with clumps of snow unmelted along some of the streets, and I was thankful for the thick jumpers and cosy hat and gloves I’d brought from London. The cold, crisp air smelt wonderful though, and we had the added pleasure when we were inside of contrasting our snug warmth, sipping mugs of hot chocolate, with the bitterness of the weather outside.

Have you ever been to Geneva? Would you like to spend a ‘writing week’ somewhere?

P.S. My 30th birthday in a beautifully autumnal Geneva.

 

How to Have a Life Full of Romance When You’re Single

How to Have a Life Full of Romance When You're Single

{spoiler: it’s easy}

Happy first day of February! I’m excited to introduce this month’s theme word for the blog, which is romance.

Now, I’m aware that this month often brings up uncomfortable feelings, especially for people who are single. All, I can say is: I’m tired of the expectation that not having a date for Valentine’s Day is a reason to feel depressed. If you’re a single woman too, trust me: you don’t have to live up to that expectation.

It always saddens me whenever I get asked: how are you happy when you’re single? I mean, we’re meant to be in the 21st Century! Over time, I’ve learnt not to equate personal happiness with my relationship status, but that’s not an easy lesson to learn, especially when society tells you that if you’re single, you should be miserable.

Single girls are meant to be Bridget Jones, lip-syncing to sad music in their pjs, consoling themselves with wine and day-dreaming about the charming, but emotionally unavailable men in their lives (when they’re not having nightmares about dying alone and being eaten by dogs, that is). They’re meant to wilt when they see another engagement or wedding announcement on Facebook and question all the life choices that led them to wind up alone. They’re meant to feel like failures. Well, I say: scratch that!

I feel so lucky to know real single women who are carving out their own careers; checking into spin class; planning their next weekend trip; reading the latest books; taking the time to be exceptional friends; keeping their standards high. They’re leading great lives, and they’re doing all this against the expectation that they should feel inadequate without a man by their side.

Single women are put in a box, given a lot of limiting beliefs and told a list of things they can’t have: happiness, fulfilment, romance, love, +1 invites to weddings, babies – the list goes on. Is any of that actually true? No.

In contrast, what are single men told they can have? Freedom, spontaneity, excitement and, perhaps most importantly, time. Time to succeed in their career, time to figure out who they are, time to find the right woman, time to play the field, ‘sow wild oats,’ etc.

Do I think there’s anything wrong about being in a relationship? Of course not! I think good relationships are wonderful; I hope I have one some day. I just also think being single is great too. In the end, there is nothing limiting about being single or being in a relationship. You’ll only be limited if you believe you are.

Valentine’s Day is a time when all single people are meant to feel incomplete. This February, though, I’d really love you to join me – whether you’re single or not – in truly embracing a life of romance for this month.

Here’s a rather lovely definition of romance for you:

romance
a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life

synonyms: mystery, glamour, excitement, colourfulness, colour, exoticism, mystique

Doesn’t your heart quicken a little when you read that? Mystery, excitement, a breaking away from the mundane. Single or not, experiences that spark those emotions inside you are yours for the taking.

If you need a few prompts, here are some suggestions for ways to embrace the romantic life this month:

Visit the sea. Breathe deeply, run along the shore, gather seashells, throw stones, splash in the water.

Treat yourself in a way you usually wouldn’t: book a manicure, a massage, a yoga class, go to the cinema, order a fancy hot chocolate – whatever calls to you.

Read books that fire your imagination. 

Think of a skill you could develop.

Allow yourself to day-dream. What kind of life do you really want to live? 

 Imagine ways to surprise someone you love.

Act in a way you perceive as out of character: if you’re serious, do something playful; if you love to talk, take a turn to listen; if you’re shy, smile at a stranger.

Think about one area of your life you’d really like to change. Don’t let blame or judgement or guilt stand a chance in your head. What are the first steps towards making that change happen? Start doing them.

Do something unexpected, like having pancakes for supper or dancing like mad to your favourite music.

Go on a date.

Have a secret (not a bad one). Plan a surprise party, start a project, take yourself out to lunch – enjoy having something that only you know about, at least for a time.

Do a colour photography challenge: take pictures of all red things one week, orange the next etc.

Say yes to something you would normally decline.

Sample or buy a perfume that smells particularly exotic.

Read a poem and delight in the beautiful use of language.

Write down 5 things you love about yourself.

Start a journal filled with your favourite quotes.

Wear red lipstick.

Do let me know – are you tempted to embrace romance this month? What ways can you think of to fill your life with more excitement?