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family Caitlin Davies

All artists have places that matter to them. Be it where they work, the setting of their latest piece, or where they go to think. Our Sense of Place feature invites you to the places that matter to our authors.

Let Caitlin Davies take you on a tour of the Parliament Hill Fields Lido in Hampstead. Caitlin is a journalist, teacher and novelist, living in North London. Her new novel Family Likeness is out now in paperback.

When I want to clear my mind, to untangle a plot or work out why a character is behaving oddly, I go to the Parliament Hill Fields Lido. There I draft things in my head as I swim up and down in water as blue as a kingfisher’s feathers.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

The lido is on Hampstead Heath in north London, close to where I grew up. It opened in 1938 during the golden age of lido construction, when the capital was to be a ‘city of lidos’. Today there are only two unheated open-air lidos open all year round. And this is one of them.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

 Swimming at the lido feels like being in a pool on top of an ocean liner, temporarily moored in a park and about to pull off. I’m always full of expectation walking up to the Art Deco entrance and hearing the metal shutter going up with a rattling sound, just as it has always done.

I can chart the stages of my life at this place. As a toddler I splashed in the shallow end and in the fountain, used the slides and chutes, sucked Orange Maid ice-lollies, shivered with cold and refused to get out.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

As I got older I started going towards the deep end, which seemed a mile away to me then, but I couldn’t wait to be out of my depth. As a teenager I was only ever at the deep end, because that was where teens showed off. Then I left England for fifteen years and when I came back with a three-year-old child it was back to the shallow end again for me.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

As my daughter grew up she begged to be allowed to swim to the deep end. Now she’s a teenager and doesn’t want to swim with me at all. So I’m back in the deep end, again, on my own.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

The old slides and chutes have gone, the fountain’s no longer working, but the pool has a silvery new metal skin that seems to keep the water warmer.

I’m a fair weather outdoor swimmer, I only venture to the lido on a sunny day, and I go in the morning, before I sit down to write. I often take a problem with me, an assignment to think about. What would happen if this character did that? What’s going to happen when I get to that section of the novel? Do I know what the ending will be? Then just as I think I have it worked out, I’m interrupted by a duck.

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Photograph by Ruth Corney

At night when I can’t sleep I often think of the Parliament Hill Fields Lido. I picture myself climbing up the concrete steps that rise from the side like an amphitheatre and looking at the empty pool – in my imagination it’s always empty – and there I am, about to get in.

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Photograph by Glyn Roberts

Swimming to me is like writing, sometimes I swim fast, sometimes I’m just floating. I don’t count lengths; I’m only doing it for enjoyment. But after a swim at the lido I’m ready for the day, and whatever happens after that.

Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies out now.

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Anna James is a school librarian and book blogger. She blogs at acaseforbooks.com and is Recommendations Editor at gobookyourself.co, she’s also on Twitter at @acaseforbooks. Here she writes about her work and the joy of recommending books.

The first reaction to saying you’re a book blogger is often for people to ask whether you get free books. I do, and it’s lovely, but the real joy is not that you don’t have to pay for them but that you get to read them first. I am more than happy to pay for books but it’s a huge privilege, and always exciting, to be able to read them early.

Whilst I’ve had a book blog for three years now, I only really started to build a bigger readership and get involved in the literary community, on Twitter and in real life, in the last year. I also moved from Blogspot to Tumblr and, with some help, made my blog look a little more professional and clean. I also like to think that my writing has progressed somewhat – I definitely need to have a little edit of my archives.

I had a very different experience with the other blog I’m involved in, Go Book Yourself. In October a Twitter friend, Daniel Dalton, asked if I’d be interested in helping with a new blog he had an idea for. The premise was that amidst the countless book review blogs, we would take popular books and offer recommendations for further reading. I send Dan the lists and he makes it look incredible. We launched at the end of October and two days later John Green tweeted about our The Fault in Our Stars list and we woke up to 7000 followers. BuzzFeed then found us and a combination of some high profile help and filling a gap in the book blog market means that in three months we have over 60000 followers.

I love being part of Go Book Yourself because it lets me do what I love – matching readers with books they will love. In my day job as a school librarian I try to match teenagers with books that will open their eyes to the wonder of fiction as well as attempting to keep up with recommendations for my avid readers. For example, I have two Year 10 girls who after reading the whole Man Booker shortlist and discovering a love for Eleanor Catton are now nagging me to finish The Rehearsal so we can discuss it. I love it when friends or Twitter strangers who have nothing to do with the book industry ask me for recommendations. I love finding new books that I adore and championing them. I am very grateful that I get to meet authors I love and fascinating book people regularly and that I get to go to parties where there are as many books as canapes. Being at the Granta Booker party at the moment Eleanor won was an indescribably special moment and highlight.

In 2012, the chair of the then Man Booker judges, Sir Peter Stothard caused a ruckus when he wrote an article claiming that book bloggers were killing literary criticism.  It’s an ongoing debate and I find myself rather straddling the fence. I sit in a middle position because I blog, I am not a paid literary critic but I do work in the book industry, albeit as a librarian. But what makes someone qualified to review a book? Is it being well read, having a background in the book industry, being able to write well? What separates critics from bloggers, other than being paid, is rather abstract. Yes, there are simplistic or unintelligent reviews on a plethora of book blogs but I would argue there are also simplistic and sensationalist reviews from professional critics. There are enlightened, intelligent reviews from professional critics, but these also exist on blogs. Bad reviews are harmful to the book industry, good reviews build it up, wherever they come from. I’m a fan of books and of people reading them. I want well written, thoughtful reviews and I want there to be as many avenues to people discovering books they love as possible.

Big NY jacket cover

Today we are celebrating the publication of The Big New Yorker Book of Cats, the highly anticipated feline sequel to last year’s canine tome, The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs.  

From the greatest magazine in the world, The Big New Yorker Books of Cats is an irresistible anthology of long-form essays, short humour pieces, poems, fiction, and cartoons, with contributions from John Updike, Ted Hughes , Roald Dahl and many more.

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To mark publication we have let cats run loose on the website with Windmill staffers photographing their cats with some favourite books and a Sense of Place feature from Mr Jim Jam. We hope you enjoy the cats takeover and if you’ve got a snap of your feline friend with a book (or indeed without) by all means share it with us on Twitter.

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Would you like to win a copy of The Big New Yorker Book of Cats?Simply browse our photo blog and tweet the name of your favourite windmill cat using #BigNYCats and we’ll pick a winner at the end of the day.

The Big New Yorker Book of Cats is out now, published by William Heinemann.

BagDaunts in Marylebone

Books Are My Bag is a nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops.

Research shows that 56% of all book buying decisions are made by readers in shops, and that high street booksellers (chain and independent) account for almost 40% of books bought. Yet many shops are under threat, with a third having closed over the past 10 years (that’s one a week!)

Books Are My Bag is aiming to halt this process.

Books Are My Bag is aiming to halt this process by celebrating our shared love of books and bookshops, calling on you to show your support by purchasing a book from your local shop this Saturday September 14th. And getting one of these wonderful tote bags in the process…

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There will be a host of events and activities to get involved with on Saturday, full details of which can be found here, and a Make Your Mark competition where you can win £100 worth of National Book Tokens and a copy of M&C Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of ThoughtClick here for full details on how to enter.

The Books Are My Bag campaign was inspired by the precepts of Lord Maurice Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought