Today I am transporting another fortunate/unfortunate soul to my desert island with nothing to keep them company except five books of their choice and one luxury item. This week I have stranded author… Fran McNicol.
Book One – Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
Jakob Beer is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history.
A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.
The first time I read Anne Michaels I was transfixed. She is a poet before a novelist and her use of language is precision and perfection itself. No word out of place, beautiful rhythm and intonation and a vocabulary that is rich and varied without ever being intimidating. It’s a Holocaust story, a story of loss and survival, that also takes a tour through archeology and ancient history. The beauty of the language and the depth of the sources somehow soothes the horror of the story, and the despair that the lost can never leave us, and yet never come with us. Ever since I first read this book, it is THE book I recommend – every lover of words should read it.
Book Two –The Stonor Eagles by William Horwood
Cuillin – last of the great sea eagles of Skye. For her there will be many bitter years of exile, sustained only by a belief that one day her offspring will return to her abandoned homeland.
James MacAskill Stonor – a lonely, bewildered child growing up in a storm-racked English coastal town… but destined to be one of the greatest and best-loved artists of this century. ‘The Stonor Eagles’ – his beautiful and haunting sculptures, whose creation and final unveiling are recounted in this deeply moving saga of life, suffering, and the courage to love… of dreams that die, and dreams that can come true.
A tale of exile and redemption. Two stories intertwined, the story of the last sea eagle high in the jagged Cuillin Hills and the tortured artist toiling to bring a sculpture to life. It’s a book I never truly manage to pigeon hole or completely understand, but each reading brings another layer or a different emphasis. It’s written on an epic scale, and brings out the wildness of the Black Cuillins as well as the despair that seems to lie at the heart of much creativity. Mostly the description of the eagle battling the wind and learning to fly the true horizon, as befits her kind, is a brilliant, wild and savage metaphor for the quest to find our own true nature.
Book Three – A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.
Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
In fact the copy I have is the Earthsea Trilogy- to pick one story without knowing the ending now seems strange.
I love fantasy, and tales of the perennial battle between light and dark. This is the original brilliant story of a boy with wizardly powers who foolishly opens a rent into the dark underworld. The magic in Earthsea is dependant on knowing the true names of things- when you know the name of a creature, it must do your bidding. The art of magic therefore is the art of finding out the true name, of dragons and wraiths. It’s a beautifully written, dark and complex book that I first read as a teenager and yet still stands the test of time.
Book Four – This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann
At the turn of the twentieth century, Nathan Walker comes to New York City to take the most dangerous job in the country: digging the tunnel far beneath the Hudson that will carry trains from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In the bowels of the riverbed, the workers – black, white, Irish and Italian – dig together, the darkness erasing all differences. But above ground, the men keep their distance until a dramatic accident on a bitter winter’s day welds a bond between Walker and his fellow workers that will both bless and curse three generations. Almost ninety years later, Treefrog stumbles on the same tunnels and sets about creating a home amongst the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and petty criminals that comprise the forgotten homeless community.
Calum McCann is another favourite author for his use of language. I find McCann’s style can be deceptively clean and simple, but with surprising layers, and in this, my favourite of his books, it’s as if the spaces in between the words let the light in. It’s the story of the tunnels of New York, the men that built them, and the others that have now re-purposed them. When I read this book, I can feel the light shining, and I always find hope and clarity.
Book Five – Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara
Flicka’s colt Thunderhead is an ugly white throwback, but Ken believes he can turn the colt, wild as it is, into a champion racehorse.
This book tells the story of every pony mad child’s dream. An ugly unwanted foal that turned into a quirky horse, dangerous, difficult and magnificent. It’s a story of belief and perseverance, of following your instincts, and listening to your inner voice. In the end it is a story and of working with the nature of the animal not against. And there is no false reassurance or cliched promise of ease. There is no capitulation. It’s one of the seminal books that has shaped how I think about horses and our relationships with them. It’s another sweeping epic, set in the mountains of Wyoming, where love and loss and challenge and heartbreak are the backdrop to joy.
My luxury item
A Book of Stars, to learn the secrets of the universe while i had nothing else to do.
About the Author
Fran McNicol is an amateur equestrienne living in the UK. She is a full-time doctor, specialising in surgery. Her MD thesis was an examination of the inflammatory cascade in sepsis. As a surgeon, MBChB, MD, FRCS, she obviously knows a huge amount about the human animal. But the most useful product of medical training, from her horses’ point of view, is that she learned how to research, evaluate evidence and then apply theory to optimise the care of her horses. Her writing is, therefore, a mix of opinion and her current state of learning from 25 years of doctoring, time spent working around the world as a polo groom and many years of keeping her own horses. Fran loves training young horses and focuses on riding the sport horse both classically and holistically. She competes regularly for her local riding club, especially in One Day Eventing. Nelipot Cottage started life as an educational blog, to share learning and best practise, to promote the benefits of a barefoot and holistic herd lifestyle for whole horse health, and to reflect on life lessons learned along the way. Fran believes that horses exist to bring out the very best in humans. It is her hope that sharing these tales will bring new friends, kindred spirits, exchange of knowledge and lots of positive energy into the lives of the Nelipot herd.
Fran’s book is called Bare Hooves and Open Hearts: Tales from Nelipot Cottage and you can buy a copy of the book here.
I am a consultant surgeon and a keen amateur equestrian. Paddy, my first event horse, was as cheap as chips and came with a fearsome reputation. Part of that reputation was that he hated the farrier. His feet were weak and crumbly, wouldn’t hold shoes, and he absolutely hated the whole process of being shod. When he kicked our “horse whispering” farmer across the yard, and we had to sedate him to get the shoes on, I wondered if there could be another way.
I did some reading and took the plunge, taking his steel horseshoes off for good, and he went from strength to strength, growing incredible rock crunching feet. We went on to qualify for several riding club championships, and he was still sound and eventing aged 20.
My second horse, Cal, had terrible feet when I bought him, and he broke his carpal bone tripping over his long toes out in the field. Once he was rehabbed back into full work, I was determined to avoid the concussive effects of metal horseshoes. I knew from my experiences with Paddy that barefoot eventing could work.But Cal is a sturdy Irish Sport horse with flat dinner plate feet, and getting him sound and comfortable on all surfaces was a challenge. All the learning, the emotional, psychological and intellectual investment, the changes in lifestyle and horse husbandry that I had to make to get Cal’s feet functional, became the subject of this book. I wanted to share the learning, to spare others the pain and the expense.
When I took Paddy’s shoes off, I chose to challenge accepted dogma and tradition. I chose to put my horse’s needs before my own aspirations. I listened to my horse and Irelinquished my agenda for the health of my horse. On that day, my relationship with all my future horses changed completely. There is no recognition in law, or indeed in Equine Science, that these magnificent animals might actually be sentient beings, capable of communicating with us if we could only listen. Once you start listening, once you offer the animal a voice, an opinion and a say in the relationship, the bond you forge is like no other.
Bare Hooves and Open Hearts tells the story of my chequered journey from traditional eventer towards a more thoughtful and holistic type of equestrianism. The book includes stories and guidance based on experience around barefoot performance, healthy diet, sustainable horse keeping, mindset and horse-human connection.
Connect with Fran: