Category Archives: Blogs

Transcribing

So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)

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The nines, ten years later

By the third evening I wanted to be home, alone. But instead I sat down on the suitcase-unpacking surface in the hotel room and stared into space. It sort of worked.

Ten years on from this event, we were back in Oxford. And isn’t it amazing how similar we all are? OK, the people from Bangalore have bougainvillea in their garden. I do not, but wish I did. And it sounds like the Indian ID [card] system is far superior to the Swedish one.

It was also very English – and in this instance I don’t mean British – with college gardens, afternoon tea and chats about Roedean. The trees blossomed by the side of the streets and it was all I could do to not move to Oxford there and then.

Because it was ten years since the last celebration, our hosts – yet again – offered us a Ceilidh, although it was more English dancing than Scottish, and everyone made fools of themselves, except for me and Aunt Scarborough (because we sat it out). Only one guest needed to join in via Skype, from the top of some volcano, the other side of the world.

The 2019 Ceilidh

It was, as many of you will know, unseasonably warm. This was due mostly to the fact that I had brought my padded jacket, the same one I’ve worn all winter. I know that such a hot Easter is a bad sign, but it was actually quite nice, except for those who turned over-pink in the process.

But oh, the luxury of sitting outside like that, and the balmy evenings!

The day before, the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter accompanied me to, lightly, grill Linda Sargent and Mr ‘Sargent’ over Easter Sunday lunch. Well, roof terrace type of places are likely to do that. We had such a good time and sat for so long, that we had to be asked to leave as they were closing. But not before we had moved tables to achieve more shade.

Also discovered a place that serves enormous Kransekager, so I will just have to return. Or move to Oxford.

If all this sounds nice, let me tell you how nice it is to be home. Alone.

Notre Dame, and Our People

I’m going to be controversial here.

I have not been moved – to the same extent as ‘everyone else’ – over the fire at Notre Dame.

Yes, it is sad, and bad. But it didn’t kill lots of human beings. It wasn’t the empty home of people who have now been made homeless.

I’ve not visited, but on exchanging Notre Dame in my mind for some building I do know and love, I don’t seem to feel much worse.

The Guardian had several bad and sad articles the day after the fire. I actually felt worse about the microplastics, also on the front page, that we eat and inhale all over the world.

But what made me almost cry were pages 18 and 19, about the Windrush citizens, as exemplified by Winston Robinson, former ambulance driver. Things are really no better for most of these people, and certainly not for Winston.

I feel ashamed, even though it wasn’t my doing. And I’m deeply upset that this ‘civilised’ nation can do a thing like this, and on such a scale, and so knowingly, in full view of the whole country, if not the whole world.

I’m sorry.

Remembering Amritsar

Ten – or a hundred – years on and it’s not as if the world has suddenly got a lot better. On Saturday it was 100 years since the massacre at Amritsar. Ten years ago I read Bali Rai’s historical novel City of Ghosts and was shocked. Because I didn’t know nearly enough about this. I blame my non-UK background, but of course, lots of people here don’t know much either. There was an interesting piece in the Guardian the other day. Seemingly British people don’t realise that what happened that day in 1919 didn’t endear them to the Indian population. Or that they haven’t forgotten.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

Below is my review from 2009:

Did you know about all the Indian soldiers fighting for England in World War I? I didn’t, other than knowing that soldiers did come from other countries to fight. The sheer number is horrifying. It’s one thing – just about – to send ‘your own’ to die for your country. To send Indian soldiers to their deaths because you have a quarrel with your German neighbour is awful beyond belief.

This novel has a number of sub-plots, which together build a picture of India in the years before 1920. There is Bissen, the soldier who fought in France. There are Gurdial and Jeevan, two teenagers from the local orphanage in Amritsar.

We learn of what happened to Bissen in Europe, and how it affects his life in India after the war. He is an older and wiser influence on the two boys. Gurdial is in love, and Jeevan picks the wrong friends.

And then we have the time and place; Amritsar in 1919. You can tell it’s not all going to end well.

Bali has written a very Indian story from almost a century ago. You can smell the place, and you can see all the colours. You can taste the food, and you can almost feel what happened on that fateful day in April in Amritsar. There is a ghostly element, which although impossible to explain, fits in perfectly with the plot.

It’s very romantic, and it’s very sad and very violent.

It’s a story that needed telling.

It’s a story you need to read.

Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

One day is here

Don’t know whether I mentioned the trip we made last month? Doesn’t matter. Long train journey; out one day, home again the next. I used up – almost –  my whole quota of good reliable looking children’s books. I needed three, one out, one back, and one in reserve. The books I had with me were good, and I was pleased with my selection.

Then came two more trips, one just finished and one soon to happen. I had to select reading material for them together, to make sure they were evenly balanced, and so I didn’t accidentally pick all the best books for one, leaving nothing sensible for the other. Same principle of three books per journey.

Trouble was, there were not many children’s books left in the to be read pile. At least not enough to fit in with my needs. There are some hardbacks, but they are too big to hold, and weigh a little too much. Others are short, and would be over too quickly.

So I actually went into the twilight zone. I have a bookcase where I put the ones which have had to drop off the to be read pile due to space and time issues, but that I still believe will be really good to read. One day.

In the end I had two well matched piles, each containing two adult crime novels and one children’s book. That’s not how I like things to be, but frankly, the children’s books coming in are not long journey material. OK, travelling in Britain I could obviously buy a replacement at some point, but not perhaps when I needed it.

And, erm, I even managed to colour coordinate one pile. It was a sort of orangey tinge, until I swapped one book for Death in Berlin, which was rather faded and grey. Not to mention dry. Pages 24 and 25 sailed away on the plane, and I had to anchor them with my foot until I could rescue them.

From the other pile I decided against another ancient copy of a book with print that was far too small for [my] comfort. That’s another thing about old, sometimes used, books. They don’t age well. It can be content, or it can be physical, with dry spines and faded covers where you can barely see what the book is. The tiny print is presumably one reason so many books back then were around 200 pages.

And who knows, before I get on the next train, there could have been a mass arrival of perfect travel companions. Some books are really good, beginning when I get to the station and ending as the train and I are almost at our destination.

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.