Desert Island Books goes back to the Dark Ages…

I ‘met’ Annie online  last year and rapidly became a fan of her work and her informed blogposts on Dark Age history. We share something of a love of light and life and Annie has humour that appeals. It was only natural then that I invite her to be my first guest on Desert Island Books so that we can learn more about the Inner Annie (try saying that fast!). She admits to cheating but I don’t mind. Over to Annie and her Top Ten…

Well, what a delightful idea; my toes are wiggling already at the thought of sinking, unfettered by shoes, into the warm sand. Cast away on a desert island, with no interruptions – except for the sound of the waves, pushing and retreating in harmonious natural rhythm – and the opportunity to read in peace.  Bliss. Oh, but hang on, I can only take ten books? Hmm, I’m going to have to think this one through very carefully…

I shall begin my list with some old favourites. These are books which introduced themselves to me when I was a teenager, and might indeed be favourites simply because of that. How much we cling to our teenage memories; for good or bad, they are always intense.

The Flambards Trilogy (I’m not cheating here; my copy is one book!) by KM Peyton

The Go-Between by LP Hartley.

The link here is the east of England. I read Flambards in my late teens, at a time when I was finally beginning to put down roots (in Norfolk), something I’d been unable to do previously because my father was in the army. Christina’s relationship with the old house, Flambards, at a time when I was a particularly introspective teenager, spoke volumes to me about growing up in a house which remained stable whilst all around there was change. The Go-Between delivered images of long, hot, dusty Norfolk summers and everything about it appealed. I love the sun, and I’ve realised that I am always drawn to books, or passages in books, which tell of long, lazy heat-filled days, where emotions run high even while the weather tries to stultify.

My next batch would be history books:

I’ve pushed my luck with trilogies, but I would really struggle to choose one single volume of Sharon Penman’s Welsh Trilogy, or indeed Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (even though, again, my copy is one volume). In England, you’re lucky if you learn much more history in school than WWII, the Tudors and the Stuarts. My degree course corrected that deficit, but despite having studied the middle ages, I learned little about medieval Wales. These books put that right for me. When the time came for us to brave a family holiday with children, (three of them, less than four years’ difference in age between the lot of them) we picked a guesthouse in North Wales. I recognised all the places I’d read about, and thus began a love affair which has not abated in intensity – we still visit at least twice a year. I can’t travel far without my ‘fix’ of Welsh history and romantic tales therein. If I must pick just one, then it would be Penman’s’ The Reckoning.

English Historical Documents Volume I, edited by Dorothy Whitelock. A ‘brick’ of a book, it would be handy for lobbing at predators. But within its pages are just about every document, charter and will from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Informative, interesting, and my copy smells of ‘old book.’ It cost me £160, and I’m not leaving without it!

1066 and All That by Sellar and Yeatman. Just because it’s funny.

To get serious for a while, I would like to take some classical literature, and first among that group would be:

Emma by Jane Austen. The consummate story-teller, Austen was adept at showing mannerisms, brilliant at characterisation, and dropping clues into her work. This book would keep me entertained. Then,

Browning – A Selection by E Williams. So many of Robert Browning’s poems give real pause for thought, others describe the languid summers he spent in Italy. Perfect beach reading.

Re-reads and pure escapism:

Another Trilogy! This time I can’t cheat, because they are all separate volumes so I’ll go with the first volume of the Damiano Trilogy by RA MacAvoy. Masterful story-telling, great history, magic, witches, and archangels. Oh, and hot summers in the Languedoc. There’s definitely a theme here!

The World, the Flesh and the Devil by Reay Tannahill. A Scottish historical romance, which I just love to re-read.

Brideshead Revisited. The characters in this book are so familiar to me now, that it would be like taking old friends on holiday with me. The theme music from the original TV series would go round my head while I was reading. I always remember the title of the first chapter: Et in arcadia ego? Yes, it’s a book of introspection, of regret, yearning, pining, questioning, failure to conform and erm, yes, there are a few long hot carefree summers too…

Now, where are my flipflops?

A wonderfully sustaining library of books for Annie. Hope her trunk makes it to shore! Annie, thanks for allowing us to learn more of the Inner Annie. Wishing you great success as your narratives reach more and more readers!

You can find Annie at