My enormous thanks to Rhoda Hardie for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves by Jane Christmas and for sending me a copy of the book which I am very much looking forward to reading. Rhoda managed to arrange for Jane and I to stay in together today!
Staying in with Jane Christmas
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Jane and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
I’m delighted to stay in with you, Linda. Thanks for inviting me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
Well, it seems appropriate, since we’ve all been confined to barracks so to speak, to talk about my new book Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves, which was released Nov. 12 in the UK.
Oh! A belated happy publication day Jane. What can we expect from an evening in with Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves?
Open House is a memoir, and it’s about houses, specifically the houses I’ve lived in throughout my life. I adore houses: I love buying them, fixing them up, selling them, and upping sticks again. I’m quite the Rightmove addict, and I believe I am not alone in my fascination with houses. Property programs on TV are also another source of intrigue for me: Sometimes it’s not about the house per se but about seeing the transformation in the owners, or the prospective home buyers. Everyone has an idea of what they think they want in a home, but oftentimes that idea does not end up being what ultimately pulls at their heart strings.
Oh I couldn’t agree more. I love house programmes, even if I have only moved once in 35 years!
Open House opens up with me trying to figure out how to tell my husband, Colin, a man who hates moving and who does not share my passion for homes, that we have to move. We had bought a lovely home in the seaside town of Brixham—it was a former fisherman’s cottage with four large bedrooms, two bathrooms, lots of white-washed beams and sisal carpeting. It was gorgeous. I left so lucky to live there. But after a few years the few factors I had overlooked about the house—its proximity to the centre of town, the long flight of stairs leading up to the garden, and the vicious seagulls—got to me. We had to move. On the plus side we had lovely neighbours, the house itself was amazing, and we were close to the harbour and the south Devon coastline, so moving away from that was quite a wrench.
That makes me smile Jane. I told my husband we were moving with no discussion at all!
We ended up buying a rundown house in Bristol that neither of us particularly loved but that we could afford. It was during the renovation of that house that I began to count up the number of times I had moved and renovated, and I was shocked by all those 32 moves. So as I set about scraping wood chip wallpaper from the walls I started to reminisce about each house, asking myself what I remembered of it, and why I had moved from it. When I was young, the reasons we moved often was down to my mother: she loved houses and loved renovating. Bear in mind that this was the early 1960s when no one was renovating homes! I hated our frequent house moves and vowed to never buy old houses and renovate them. But when I grew up that is exactly what I’ve done. I’m afraid the apple does not fall far from the tree!
So Open House is a sort of meditation on the houses I’ve called home, and on the factors that causes us to move from one place to another. Along the way, especially with 32 moves, you’re bound to lose something, and for me that loss was some friendships and stability. The book is both funny and serious: one reviewer called it an insightful, rollicking read full of plaster dust and screaming seagulls. But I also think it allows readers to plumb their own memories of where they’ve lived, why they moved, how life might have been different had they stayed put.
Open House sounds brilliant Jane. I love the concept of memories and what is gained and lost. When we moved to our present house I had just had my tonsils out as an adult. I came round on the ward to find my husband sitting next to the bed. Instead of asking me how I was feeling he said, ‘Sign this. We’re moving on Friday’ and then got another husband visiting his wife to witness the signatures for us!
Our Bristol house took time to settle into, we were very much grumpy owners, but as things took shape and the wood-burner got lit we warmed to the house, and we’re proud of what we did on it.
I’d have loved a sneaky look round Jane! Too bad lockdown is in place! What else have you brought along and why?
As a fan of property shows I have invited along Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer. I think they’re hilarious, and there was a time when I contacted their program and asked for their help. They got back to me just as we bought our Bristol home, but I often wish I had had their insight and assistance.
Is this the time to confess I’m a little bit in love with Phil Spencer…?
In addition to Kirstie and Phil, I’m inviting my mother, who’s been dead for about seven years but whose voice (not always welcome) is ever-present whenever I face renovating or décor decisions. In those moments when I’m stumped, I’ll ask the ether “Mom, what would you do?”
Ha! That’s mothers for you Jane. Mine’s still with us and very free with her advice too. I wish I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘Why don’t you…’.
I’d have a few bottle of champagne and some nibbles, perhaps have a little jazz music playing in the background while we all sit around a chat about homes and what we love about them.
That sounds like a perfect evening to me Jane. Thanks so much for chatting with me all about Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves. Later, I’ll tell you that the people who lived in our house prior to us left such a trail of unpaid bills that within a couple of days of moving in we’d had a court summons for non-payment of rates and Moben kitchens rang to say they were going to remove our kitchen because it hadn’t been paid for! It’s a long story… You pour us a glass of champagne and I’ll just give blog readers all the important information about Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves and then I’ll tell you more.
Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves
Moving house has never flustered author Jane Christmas. She loves houses: viewing them, negotiating their price, dreaming up interior plans, hiring tradespeople to do the work and overseeing renovations. She loves houses so much that she’s moved thirty-two times.
There are good reasons for her latest house move, but after viewing sixty homes, Jane and her husband succumb to the emotional fatigue of an overheated English housing market and buy a wreck in the town of Bristol that is overpriced, will require more money to renovate than they have and that neither of them particularly like.
As Jane’s nightmare renovation begins, her mind returns to the Canadian homes where she grew up with parents who moved and renovated constantly around the Toronto area. Suddenly, the protective seal is blown off Jane’s memory of a strict and peripatetic childhood and its ancillary damage—lost friends, divorces, suicide attempts—and the past threatens to shake the foundations of her marriage. This latest renovation dredges a deeper current of memory, causing Jane to question whether in renovating a house she is in fact attempting to renovate her past.
With humour and irreverence, Open House reveals that what we think we gain by constantly moving house actually obscures the precious and vital parts of our lives that we leave behind.
This is a memoir that will appeal to anyone whose pulse quickens at the mere mention of real estate.
Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves is available for purchase in all the usual places, including here.
About Jane Christmas
Jane Christmas is the author of several bestselling books, including Incontinent on the Continent and And Then There Were Nuns. Born and raised
in Toronto, Jane moved to the UK in 2012. She has lived in Walthamstow, Brixham and Longwell Green, and now lives in Bristol with her husband.
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