Monthly Archives: July 2018

Even Jane Austen suffered “writer’s block”

A week or so ago, I visited Jane Austen’s house – in Chawton, Hampshire.  Like most avid readers, I have read all of her books and admire her insights into society of the early 19thCentury.  She may have had a short life but there can be do doubt that her impact on English Literature was immeasurable.

The house is also home to the Jane Austen museum and it was fascinating to hear  about her sea-faring brothers, Francis and Charles who both had distinguished naval careers.

Jane’s older brother Edward Austen Knight had been fortunate enough to be adopted by a wealthy family. When he inherited the estate he allowed Jane, her widowed mother, her sister Cassandra and their close family friend Martha Lloyd to live in the house rent free.

End of a peripatetic lifestyle

It must have been a welcome relief to her after a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle between 1801 and 1809.

Jane’s clergyman father had retired to Bath when he was 70 and died four years later.

From then on, the Austen women lived a type of genteel poverty. They stayed with family and friends or stayed in a variety of lodgings in Bath, Clifton, Warwickshire and Southampton.  This was the period when Jane hardly did any writing.   I think it  likely she had so many other day-to-day tasks that she regarded her writing as an unimportant diversion.  Many writers will identify with that attitude of mind.

Once they were settled in Chawton, there was no doubt the family were free of some of the financial constraints.  It was then Jane’s inspiration returned.  Observing the idyllic surroundings of this very English village, it’s not hard to see why this last home was where Jane was most prolific and most successful in her writing.

Pictured outside Jane Austen House Museum


I am not sure if this is really me

She must have also found a great deal of her material in the local residents and the occasional social event at the “Great House” (as Jane called the Chawton House home of Edward Austen Knight).

But poverty can drive inspiration

Not all writers need to feel secure and happy in order to be inspired.  Charles Dickens and George Orwell all struggled in their early writing careers but ploughed on.   J K Rowling was an unemployed single mum when she penned the early Harry Potter series of novels.

But Jane was obviously settled at Chawton and English Literature is the richer because of that. I would  highly recommend a visit to Jane Austen House House Museum to any fan of literature.  I plan to go back as the ticket price entitles you to another free visit within a year.





For much of June and beginning of July 2018 people in the UK have been walking around like Zombies.  Has some sort of apocalypse hit us? Is it a case of mass hypnosis?

No it’s just a prolonged heat wave.

It’s not that us Brits dislike the hot weather.  At first everyone enjoyed having fun in the sun.  But as we entered our third week of soaring temperatures, it seemed like there was no respite.

For most people the only “air-conditioning “ during the long hot nights was an open window and perhaps a desk fan. And it was taking its toll on the nation as we struggled to cope with night temperatures in the late 20’s and the inevitable sleepless nights that ensued.

I have spent a great deal of time in the United Arab Emirates where such temperatures are quite mild.  People laugh at me when I say that it can become a little boring when you have more or less the same hot weather every single day. Now they have some inkling what that feels like, although in the UAE, with air conditioning everywhere, it is definitely much more bearable.

This year there has been no hosepipe bans in the UK – not yet anyway – but most of the people I know have not used sprinklers – particularly in Wales where there is more available water.  We know from previous experience of prolonged dry weather, that sprinklers in domestic gardens are a waste of the previous resource of water, as the green grass will grow once more on the scorched earth.

scorched earth – but it always grows back #UseWaterWisely

Some of us with young children and grandchildren may have filled a paddling pool (is it me or are these a lot bigger than they used to be?) but as the hot weather went on longer than expected even those delights started to pall in many households as we sheltered behind drawn curtains or blinds.

Now after a couple of cloudy days and rain forecast in the not too distant future, we are beginning to hope for a more normal summer, some hot days interspersed with the odd rainy one (Although hopefully not too much rain or we may get the inevitable floods from really heavy rainfall on that scorched dried earth).  Britain has a generally mild climate where extremes of hot – or cold weather – are rare but when they happen they seem to throw the country into complete confusion.  And our lack of planning is exposed.

Cities like Tokyo, built on the boundaries of three tectonic plates have constructed buildings to withstand earthquakes.   In the Southern States of America, many cities are much more hurricane proofed. While in Scandinavian countries it is inherent in their psyche to be ready for the snow every winter.

But would this work in Britain?  Is it worth all our homes having expensive air conditioning units for the rare hot summer?  Should we completely flood-proof any home within walking distance of a river or the sea?

How would we react if it became compulsory to have snow tyres on our vehicles so we could keep things moving when we have a rare blizzard?  No we will handle our  British weather in our own quintessential British way. Not so much a plan as a coping strategy.

Witness previous events when towns and villages have being cut off by floods or blizzards.  Emergency Planners bring their coping strategies into being, invoking an inevitable “Dunkirk spirit” as local services and community groups come together to make sure those afflicted have food and shelter or are rescued from a difficult environment.