A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
When I was a baby my mother discovered that the easiest way of calming me when I was being fractious was not rocking me, or tickling me or distracting me with shiny objects, but simply wheeling my pram out under the tree in the garden and letting me watch the leaves moving in the breeze. (A good wet weather substitute was apparently a weeping fig in a rather draughty hallway.)
That innate love of trees – and, indeed, of all growing things – has never left me, and is the reason that when I was house-hunting last year, any property without a garden was a complete non-starter. It didn’t matter how glossy the kitchen, how glitzy the bathroom (yawn) or how impressive the ‘reception rooms’ (oh please) … if the house didn’t have a garden, it didn’t get past first base. No garden = no chance.
In my lifetime, I’ve moved house approximately two dozen times. Mostly, we lived in rural or semi-rural areas, because my mother believed (with some justification) that the countryside was a healthier place than the town in which to raise a family. On the couple of occasions that we did live in towns, I was utterly miserable: restless, peevish and totally unappreciative of all the things that most youngsters my age seemed to want – lots of people, bright lights, traffic, loud music, bars, clubs and noise. I remember opening my bedroom window late at night and resting my head on my arms in the cold air, just to listen to the quiet of a town asleep.
I’ve always been a writer. At primary school, when we had to write essays, I used to fill half an exercise book with my creative outpourings while my classmates were struggling to complete a couple of pages. Years later, when I was sitting 4-hour legal exams, I always left the examination room two hours early – not because I was smarter than everyone else, but simply because I could put my thoughts on paper better and faster than they could.
As a teenager and young adult, I wrote dozens of short stories; some were even illustrated with maps of my imaginary landscapes. Every spare moment would find me with my clipboard on my knee, tucked in a corner of the sofa (so no-one could see what I was writing) scribbling away. My poor, long-suffering mother was always demanding to know when I was going to get something published – but being published was never my goal. I wrote because I loved it. I loved creating fictional worlds and populating them from my own imagination. I never thought that the Brontes, with their minutely detailed fantasy worlds chronicled in tiny handmade books, were remotely odd. I understood them completely.
As I grew older however, the urge to write creatively diminished, subsumed by work, life and family concerns. I still wrote of course – newsletters for the charity I managed, letters and cards to friends, creative diatribes to miscreant companies and government departments – but I no longer wrote for the sheer joy of it (although some of those newsletters were more fun than they probably should have been).
After my mother died, and I found myself alone, I wanted to move house – to leave the memories it held and find somewhere I could finally settle down without always being in the presence of the past. My search took me back to Scotland, where I had grown up … and specifically to beautiful Upper Nithsdale in Dumfries and Galloway. There, I eventually found an inconspicuous little grey bungalow, tucked quietly away from the main road down a side turning.
From the front it looks very ordinary – even slightly dull: but once you step inside, something quite remarkable happens. You walk through the front door, into the living room and then out through a pair of double doors into the garden room … straight into Tolkien’s Rivendell.
In common with tens of thousands – if not millions – of people, I have grown to love the Rivendell episodes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Rivendell – literally ‘cleft valley’ – is a place of sanctuary and healing: the last Homely House East of the Sea, tucked away from the world in a steeply wooded valley where the only sounds are the birds, the tumbling river and the wind through the trees. Many must dream of finding it one day, but few ever do.
And yet, here is the little grey house’s great secret, which you would never guess from looking at the frontage: it sits on the rocky side of a wooded river valley at the same level as the tops of the riverside trees. Dark conifers of great age rise on the opposite side; buzzards, red kites and (if you’re very lucky and/or your eyesight and hearing is very good) golden eagles patrol the skies above. From the garden room, all you can see is the trees, the young river, the sky and the distant hills.
Sometimes, the silence in the garden room is almost total. On other days, rain beats against the glass as gales buffet the trees, causing the conifers across the river to sway slowly in dramatic and rhythmic response to the wind.
In six short months, I’ve watched snow drifting in misty waves, driven by northerly winds which barely touch the house, tucked away as it is in a slight dip in the hillside; torrential rain moving up the valley in graceful, rippling sheets of movement and light, and gin-clear azure skies full of swallows and house martins, topping up on insects before they set off on their long flights south.
All of this is magical of course, but most magical of all is the fact that the urge to write – just for the joy of it – is returning to me, having been muted for so long.
This house – with its extraordinary garden room – was on the market for 4 years before I bought it. No-one could understand why it hadn’t sold – not the agents, not the sellers, not the neighbours. The only explanation they could come up with was that it was too remote for most people’s purposes.
I have another explanation.
I like to think it was waiting for me.
Moira has been a Book Fox for nine years, and after 20 years as the manager of a tiny charity in the Lake District, now lives in south-west Scotland with her two Jack Russells. She’s responsible for The Adverse Camber Diaries, which were put on ice while she was losing her mind (and half of her kitchen equipment) moving house, but which will shortly be leaping once more into full, technicolour life. She says.