An odd old book

Buying books is one of the pleasures of doing research.  Of course I use digital resources, and visit libraries and archives, but sometimes there is a book that I want to hold in my hands and refer to over and over again.  As I delved into the history of colonial America and Georgian England for background to my novel A Moon Garden, my personal library expanded a bit.  The social, industrial, and geo-political transformations of the late 18th century intrigue me, and I am currently writing the biography of a British general who lived and died during this time. My quest for books about this period continues.

Recently I acquired The Story of the London Parks by Jacob Larwood.  It was published in London and has no copyright date.  There is, however, a hand-written inscription inside the front endpaper, indicating it was a New Year’s gift to Mrs. Goodings in 1888.

It’s a beautiful book, which includes several illustrations, including some in color.  It is in remarkably good shape, thanks to the fact that it has never been read.  This is apparent, because the pages must have been printed two-up or four-up, and they were not trimmed. Many of the pages would have to be cut apart in order flip through them.  I prefer to leave the book the way it has been for over 130 years. 

My knowledge of book printing and binding techniques of the 19th century is very limited.  If anyone reading this can provide an explanation, please feel free to leave your comments.

I wonder if Mrs. Goodings’ admirer ever asked her opinion of the book.  What would she have said?

A Moon Garden – Amazon UK

Under the clouds

It’s raining in California. Perhaps we need it, but if I had a say there would be a mix of warm sun and scattered layers of bright white clouds, with a cool breeze. My garden requires care, to check the rapid spring growth of weeds and new shoots on trees and shrubs. Even so, there is beauty in the wildness. Gradually, I will bring it to a more managed state.

The sun is shining in London. If I could, I would walk in Green Park. The old trees stand in silent witness to the generations that preceded us and endured. The daffodils display a legacy of renewal. Quiet and stillness belong here, under the sun, under the clouds, swept by the cool breeze.

AmazonUSA: A Moon Garden by Roxane Gilbert
AmazonUK: A Moon Garden by Roxane Gilbert

Those quiet spaces

As much as I love the energy and bustle of New York, at some point in my visits to that great city, I inevitably seek the quiet spaces. In this time of forced isolation due to the pandemic, many of us are looking for ways to safely connect with one another. Yet perhaps because so much of my lifetime has been spent in the mostly solitary pursuits of painting and writing, I still take comfort in solitude.

Central Park in Autumn

When walking in Central Park in autumn, it is easy to get away from crowds. It may not be the wisest thing to do, but I take the precaution of making sure there are a few other people about, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature in the urban oasis.

West 76th Street

Neither the photo of Central Park nor the one of West 76th Street was taken in the midst of a quarantine. The day was a cool, sunny, pleasant one in mid-October, when a late morning stroll on Columbus Avenue meant being swept along in a current of a moving throng. By just turning a corner, I was suddenly in a different world.

The world in which we now find ourselves is a tricky one. As I sit at home, doing research for my next book, organizing data, writing, editing, reading, I still think about those quiet spaces, and wish with all my heart that we may all soon safely travel to them.

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The East Webburn River in Widecombe-in-the-Moor

The East Webburn River flows through the ancient, picturesque village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, past the Rugglestone Inn, and through the vast land holdings of the fictional family of Joseph Buckleigh, the hero of the historical novel A Moon Garden, by Roxane Gilbert. When his tour of duty in the American War for Independence comes to an end, Joseph returns to his ancestral home in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to heal and resume his life.

Joseph’s eyes sparkled as he smiled. “I will tell you something right now that is as sincere as anything you will hear today. I am going to strip off all of my clothes and plunge my body into that very cold stream over there on the other side of the hedge. There is nothing I would like better than for my wife to get some clean clothes from my brother, and a sheet in which I may wrap myself when I come out of the water. Now, if you can present these to me in five minutes, I would be most appreciative.” With that, Joseph pulled off his shirt, dropped it on the ground, then ran in the direction of the creek.

It was not Grace who stood on the bank when Joseph finished bathing. He laughed when he saw Russell Jayne, now a captain with the Royal Army, sitting on a moss-covered rock. Russell threw him the sheet. “Good Lord, Buckleigh. What I must endure for King and country.”

From A Moon Garden ©2020 Roxane Gilbert

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The stone walls of Dartmoor

Dartmoor Lane
©Roxane Gilbert

Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England, is a village of fewer than 200 households in the middle of Dartmoor, which has been protected by National Park status since 1951. Many of the hedgerows and stone walls that divide the landscape date back hundreds of years. The walls have become natural rock gardens, covered with stonecrop, navelwort, maiden-hair ferns, and lichens.

“The edge of the gentle downward slope was anchored at its base by a giant yew tree.  From there the lane gradually rose again for about 30 yards.  Another low, decaying stone wall adjoined a weathered wooden fence, blocking the entrance to the courtyard of a two-story stone cottage set back against rolling green hills.  A decrepit stone barn stood to the east, and an overgrown garden was to the west.  Aaron dismounted his horse and opened the wide, slatted gate.  Its large rusted hinges were generously greased.  Despite a high-pitched scraping sound, it swung open with ease.”

From A Moon Garden ©2020 Roxane Gilbert

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The River Dart

It is July 4, 1778. The British Army’s 33rd Regiment of Foot has returned to the New York colony, after sustaining heavy losses in the horrific Battle of Monmouth.

“It was a warm day with a mild breeze in Manhattan. Joseph sat under a tree in the meadow at the end of Broadway, cleaning his musket. As Colonel Eades had foreseen, now that Joseph was back in New York, he was finding time to rest. He reflected on the tough battles he had been through with his regiment. When they left England and arrived in the colonies in 1776, they numbered nearly 500. In two years, the 33rd had lost close to a quarter of its men.

“… Joseph closed his eyes and envisioned the raven-haired beauty with the pale complexion, clear green eyes, and bright smile. The two of them were together, laughing, walking across the ancient rough-granite footbridge over the rushing River Dart, then running up a hill to stroll hand-in-hand on the vast, misty moor.”

from A Moon Garden ©2020 Roxane Gilbert

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Clapper bridge over the River Dart in Dartmeet, Devon, England
©Roxane Gilbert

Love is in bloom at Rougemont Garden

Rougemont Castle wall
Rougemont Castle Wall
©Roxane Gilbert

The construction of Rougemont Castle was begun in 1068, sometime after William the Conqueror laid siege to the city of Exeter in Devon, England. The walls that remain today are surrounded on three sides by public gardens. In the year 1785, the broad walk through those gardens would have been lined with towering elm trees. On my visit to Rougemont Garden a couple of years ago, the elm trees were gone, but it was still easy to envision the interrupted romantic encounter that occurs at this place in my debut novel, A Moon Garden.

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Broad walk through Rougemont Garden in Exeter, Devon, England.
Broad walk through Rougemont Garden
©Roxane Gilbert