Meanwhile, on the book front, I’ve just finished Alan Garner’s Thurlsbitch (he’s the author of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, if you’re wondering). Set in the Peak District (where my folks live, where we’ve always walked and where I’m going tomorrow), Thurlsbitch is the name of an ancient dale, where two hundred years ago people lived, and is now habituated solely by peripatetic walkers. Both sets take part in the book, and their stories interweave. It has a fascinatingly well-researched section on Pagan ritual, and the most touching approach to severe illness (I’m not sure whether the description is Parkinson’s or MS) I’ve read in any fiction.

I was also surprised to find that Garner is an alumnus (of sorts) of my old Oxford college, Magdalen (as is the recent Booker prize winner Alan Hollinghurst). He went there as an undergraduate, and was obviously genius-level. His tutor took him to one side, and said “Here’s my advice to you; go home now and write a work of genius. If you can’t do that, come back and you can study real geniuses with me.” As the website says, “He has commented that he does not read fiction because he doesn’t want to be subconsciously influenced by other writers’ ideas.”

I worry about two things here; first, and minor, that I should care about his attendance at Oxford. I’ve never wanted to belong to any set, and my recognition of his similarity annoys me without my quite being able to understand why. Secondly, that I’ve read a lot of fiction, an awful lot; I get through a good few books a week, it’s my main hobby, and I do it obsessively. I’d like to write properly one day, though friends scoff at that, and if Garner’s thesis is true then I’m crippling myself further with every novel consumed. I feel like a runner taking steroids to bulk up, only to find out they’ve been banned.

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