Monthly Archives: February 2018

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We’ve recently celebrated the centenary of [some] British women winning the right to vote. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a start.

Sally Nicholls has written a suffragette novel – Things a Bright Girl Can Do – and as we meet her three main female characters, well-off Evelyn, educated but threadbare May and working class Nell, many of us know that very soon there will be a war, and this won’t be exclusively about the rights for women to vote.

Sally Nicholls, Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We learn a lot about the suffragette movement – and I was reminded of why I always liked Sylvia Pankhurst the best – as our three girls go about campaigning for votes for women in their own different ways. What I particularly liked was that they have sympathetic people close to them; Evelyn’s young man, Teddy, May’s single mother, and Nell’s [literally] very poor parents.

And it’s not just votes for women. May and her mother are Quakers, and both Nell and May like girls best, discovering that they aren’t alone in this. Then there is the lovely Teddy, and the threat of the looming war.

After a quick march through protests and fasting in jail, war breaks out, and it’s much tougher than the way it’s usually described in fiction. Yes, young men go off to be slaughtered, but life in England is really hard, especially for people like Nell and her family, who have no money and little food, and someone is always unwell. Trying to remain a true Quaker is not easy, either, at a time when everyone seems to give up their principles for their country.

The novel is written in the same light style as Sally’s other books, and it works, despite the difficult topics of suffrage, war, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In fact, I feel it works better for having this sweetness about it, as the reality of the war years hits home.

You come to love these characters, and you discover that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

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A pile of ideas

It’s about an inch thick, with a rubber band keeping all the bits of paper under control. They are occasionally cuttings from magazines or newspapers, but mostly my own homemade ‘note paper’ cut from the backs of A4 sheets; old letters or press releases. You get eight if you cut it one way, or nine if you cut it the other way.

They are my ideas for blog posts. Sometimes I sprout so many ideas, so quickly, that I have to write them down to keep for later, and then I stuff them in with all the others, and when I’m desperate for something to write, I search through the bunch of notes.

I’ve only just realised that some of these notes have been with me A Very Long Time. Some are almost as old as Bookwitch. The blog, not the witch. I can tell from the handwriting that some of them were written absolutely ages ago. My writing has changed, mainly because I mostly type, and have half forgotten how to use a pen.

Ideas

At times I find a real gold nugget in there. (Don’t be silly. Not gold gold. Just a good idea.) But mostly there’s a reason they have been rubber-banded in for over ten years, and that’s because the idea is terrible, and I’ve clearly not been desperate enough to use it. Every now and then I go through it and throw away ideas that will never amount to anything. Or the words are so incomprehensible I have no idea what I had in mind.

(The illustrated ideas above can be explained as follows: Photo of Jo Nadin. Prize for Chae Strathie. And it needs to be pointed out that when Hillary Clinton and Mary Beard first met each other, it was in the presence of Daughter. Sort of. And that I’ve not yet managed to do anything with it.)

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

Read in Geneva

I have trained her well. If Daughter sees something she feels could make a blog post, I might discover she has emailed me some photos that I can use. In this instance it’s the Geneva bookshop she happened to walk past a couple of weeks ago.

Booked in Geneva

Having time on her hands, she entered, and found they had a largish section of books in English. These are the teen books, so I’m guessing that were we to add adult books and picture books, there would be a great deal more of them.

It would be unfair to compare this kind of offering with the equivalent French section in Waterstones. I mean, I don’t even know if they have a French section. But books in English are easier to supply anywhere in the world, as they can be bought and read by many more people than are native English speakers.

I’d still say this is a good selection of books, for those who can afford them. I understand they were quite expensive. Whether this was with domestic UK book prices in mind, or what Swiss residents can afford on their higher salaries, I’m not sure.

Booked in Geneva

It’s good to see this kind of thing. Even if the shelves do seem to be bending over backwards.

The lollipop man

Following on from Sita Brahmachari’s book about the lollipop man the other day, I was interested to find this link to an article about another road crossings helper; one who has been banned* from high-fiving the children he helps to cross.

I’m of an age where I’ve not really been in a position to enjoy the services of a lollipop person. Except, in the last few years in Stockport, when I devised a new regular route for my daily walks, I remember coming up against all the traffic one afternoon, and wondering how I was going to get across.

That was until I spied a high visibility coat further along and realised I had arrived just as the local lollipop man was warming up for his afternoon shift. I stalked up to him, looked hopeful, and was immediately ushered across. I repeated this on many occasions.

Anyway, this article I mentioned. It had a photo of a lollipop man standing in front of a dilapidated red brick wall. I found it interesting, as that wall made me think of the one on the road I mentioned above. I thought that it’s funny how all brick walls look the same.

Lollipop man

And then I read the article. It was my brick wall. Possibly my lollipop man too, but I can’t claim to recognise him.

I clearly know my brick wall.

*The ban has now been lifted.

Fredagsmys

We simply had no idea how out of touch we were.

The Swedish ladies of Manchester used to meet roughly once a month, usually on a Friday evening, at each other’s houses. There would be a lot of noise, because when 15 to 25 ladies have something to say, you can hear it. We would eat sandwiches – the classy, Scandi sort, obviously – and cake. Lots of cake. And there was coffee with that, until the day I joined and quietly asked for tea. There were moans, because Swedes drink coffee.

Within a few months most people drank tea.

Anyway. At some point a few younger, more recent arrivals joined us. I had been at the younger end until then, with our oldest member having arrived in England the day after Prince Charles was born… So, these were younger still, and several of them were married to Swedes, which meant less mixing of traditions.

Basically, we were doing what had been natural a few decades earlier. The newcomers couldn’t possibly come to gatherings on a Friday! And they asked what to bring, and when told ‘nothing’ asked if they couldn’t at least bring wine. Wine with cake? Perish the thought.

But the Fridays were a problem.

It seems that they had to sit at home with their families every Friday evening, enjoying some Fredagsmys. Except we didn’t know what this was. It took me a long time to realise that it was the modern equivalent to eating special food in front of the television on a Saturday evening, as we did in my time.

So OK, I got it then. But how were we to know? After all, when most of us were still in Sweden, we went to school or worked on a Saturday morning, and any happy frolics had to wait until after that.

Apparently – and I have undertaken A Lot Of Research – these days they eat crisps, and/or tacos and watch bad television, en famille. Mother-of-witch and I ate either some tinned mushroom goo, or prawns in white goo, on toast or with crusty white bread, and maybe shared a 33ml bottle of fizzy drink between the two of us. There might have been a few sweets. We watched the ‘latest’ BBC children’s half hour instalment of whatever they had, followed by Hylands Hörna, which was the show everyone watched on a Saturday.

Hence, our newcomers knew what they really couldn’t do. It was just that us oldies had few inklings of how things had moved on.

Zebra Crossing Soul Song

Lollipop man with soul. Sita Brahmachari’s latest dyslexia friendly book is different. It’s an unusual topic; the friendship between a young boy and the local lollipop man. But also the way it’s been written.

Otis the lollipop man is West Indian, and Sita has him speak in his own accent, which could potentially be hard to understand, if you don’t know how he might sound. On the other hand, I can see that this makes it even better from a point of view of including many readers who have never found themselves in a book.

The other thing is that Otis communicates with young Lenny through songs, and not just any songs, but ones from the ‘olden days’ i.e. my youth. At least I knew the songs.

Sita Brahmachari, Zebra Crossing Soul Song

There are more issues covered in this story. Lenny has two dads, and one of his old school friends has two mums. Lenny is also having to re-sit his A-level in Psychology, which means he’s a year behind his friends, and he is struggling with revising and keeping on top of things.

As he’s doing all this, he also puzzles over what happened to Otis the last time he saw him. We are kept guessing all through the book.

There’s a lot of depth here, and it feels pretty grown-up. I’m hoping Zebra Crossing Soul Song will find many fans, especially among those who don’t read much.

‘Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…’  🎵