Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2014

The Book of the Needle This year is ending on a high note academically, as I have just been promoted to Professor. This was my second attempt; the application process is arduous, and for two years in a row it has taken up most of my summer, leaving us no time for a proper holiday. It was complicated this time by the sudden emergence in the late spring of a tempting job opportunity at the University of East Anglia: I rushed to the other side of the country to find there were only two other shortlisted candidates, both friends of mine, so it was a convivial selection process, though a competitive one. In the end the job went to my colleague Tiffany Atkinson, who will be greatly missed at Aberystwyth, though she will still do some PhD teaching for us. Creina and I are glad after all to be staying in Wales. Work has been stressful recently, as the university, like all others in the UK, is under financial pressure, but I have a research leave coming up, which will give me time to write, and we are now feeling much better about the future.

One recent professional highlight was a PhD recruiting event at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, where I talked to students in a room full of CÚzannes, Rodins and Monets, including three of his waterlily paintings. Another was a trip to Exeter in July where I gave a poetry workshop based on the seventeenth-century microscopy studies of Robert Hooke in the Cathedral Library, complete with microscopes and slides of protozoa. Creina came too, and we had a lovely couple of days staying at a luxury hotel in glorious weather, as well as taking the opportunity to look up old friends.

My novel The Book of the Needle came out in May (my third successive May publication), and was launched with a reading at the University bookshop and an interview at the Hay Festival. After that things went very quiet, though it has just had a rave review in one of the Welsh literary journals. I haven't done a lot of writing this year, but I have a couple of big poetic projects lined up; I also have the bad habit of emerging from the shower each morning with a new idea for a novel. As there were 25 years between my first novel and The Book of the Needle, I may well be in my eighties before I get round to writing one of them.

Creina is still going every other week to her piano lessons with the baroness at the yurt farm on the mountain. She is learning the Moonlight Sonata now, and I am getting very familiar with the sound of it drifting up the stairs when I am using the computer in my study at night. Much of her time this year has been spent dealing with house problems. The work never seems to end; damp patches keep breaking out on the walls, and no sooner do we fix one leak than another appears. This year we have had one of our four chimneys rebuilt, but if you go up to the attic you can see chinks of sky between the nineteenth-century slates, and we have decided the roof needs redoing. The roofer has also pointed out that our chimney problems are largely caused by the chimneys not being used, so we are going to buy a wood-burning stove to replace the gas fire in the lounge, which should help with the damp, as well as making the house a bit cosier in the winter.

I have given up fencing, having admitted to myself that I was having trouble keeping up with the nine-year-olds, while the sixteen-year-olds were far too good. This also saves the long weekly bus-trip to Lampeter, but our social life is still very much bound up with that area, where Creina attends Sunday services at the University Chapel. We get invited to a lot of parties, some of them given by people in their nineties; one friend has entertained us a couple of times in her country house which was once home to Dylan Thomas, a fascinating experience in his centenary year. We gave a party of our own in the summer, which gave me the chance to practise my cooking, but the outstanding culinary experience of the year was my birthday lunch at Ynyshir Hall, which finished with the chef making frozen meringues at the table with a fuming vat of liquid nitrogen. After that we walked in the neighbouring bird sanctuary. We only saw a heron, but the views of the Dyfi Estuary on a cold but sunny November afternoon were spectacular.

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