Category Archives: History

What about Deborah?

The Breadwinner

When I got to the last page of the Guardian Weekend last week, I stared. It was a film poster for a new animated film called The Breadwinner.

I thought, ‘it might be based on the book by Deborah Ellis.’ I began searching for the proof that it had something to do with this marvellous, if disturbing, tale about the young girl in Afghanistan who ends up as the breadwinner for her family by pretending to be a boy.

But there was nothing. Angelina Jolie gets a prominent mention, as executive producer. Well done. The film is by Nora Twomey. Well done again. There are various quotes about the film’s excellence.

There is some small print, but I am fairly certain that I squinted enough, and Deborah’s name wasn’t there either.

So I googled the film, and lo and behold, it is based on the book. It’s not even pretending not to be. Wikipedia lists her, and an interview with Nora begins by mentioning her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Film posters are large. There would have been room for the name of the person who thought up this whole story in the first place. Even if they have altered a lot, there is the sense of the original plot, the original characters.

If Deborah had been a really well known, big name, I suspect it would have been plastered all over the poster.

That said, I look forward to seeing the film. It’s out on May 25th.

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The Search for Earth’s Twin

Whenever the Resident IT Consultant says ‘I thought you might want to read this’ to Daughter, she never does. She made an exception for this book, however. Stuart Clark’s well-written The Search for Earth’s Twin, was a book she read, and then said she might read again.

The Resident IT Consultant had bought two copies, one for her, one for us, because it was going cheap at The Works. First he read it and then I did. I didn’t want to commit, so started by giving it the once-over, which resulted in me reading all of it as well.

Stuart Clark, The Search for Earth's Twin

This is Daughter’s world. ‘Everything’ in the book is relevant, and I kept coming across names of people that pop up in our daily conversations. I feel I finally know what it is she does, and I intend to put this book into the hands of anyone careless enough to ask what it is she does.

It goes from Doppler in the early 19th century, and from there on most of the names you might recognise from school physics books have done their bit. Published in 2016, Stuart even covers some of what is happening right now, like TESS, which was launched in mid-April this year.

So not only could I read about the acronyms I’ve had thrown at me for nearly three years, but I half understand some of the physics, not to mention the agony for the people involved, when they were not believed, or when they were scooped, or the funding disappeared despite theirs being a very good idea.

The one thing that made me uncomfortable was finding Geoffrey Marcy being used as the red thread through the history of searching for exoplanets. Stuart Clark’s compelling first chapter describes the young Marcy in 1982, with his doubts for the future, and this would have been a great opening, were it not for more recent developments. Bad timing, but these things happen.

Still, a fantastic read about astrophysics today for the layman. And we seem to have another two copies of the book, in case of emergencies.

Another Brooklyn

Astrid Lindgren laureate Jacqueline Woodson’s most recent novel, Another Brooklyn, is a short adult novel, which would almost work as YA if you wanted it to. It reminded me of Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, which I felt was more of a children’s book for adults.

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn is poetic, with beautiful language. Almost too much so. It’s about four young girls growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, as told from the point of view of one of them. I recognise the period, but obviously not the setting.

In a way, though, I reckon us outsiders have seen these streets in films and feel we know them anyway. All four girls have some sort of issue, like being motherless, having too strict a family, being the child of a teen mother. But they love each other and live very much in each other’s pockets for a number of years, until age and development takes them away again.

We see how they go from quite young, to mid-teens, experimenting with boys, with the expected results. It’s an interesting period, both in the world and in their lives.

Money in the Morgue

Is this a sudden interest; modern writers either finishing the book of a dead author, or writing a brand new one in someone else’s world? Or has it always been happening?

Here we have Money in the Morgue, started by Ngaio Marsh during WWII and finished rather more recently by Stella Duffy. I haven’t looked for the seam, where new meets old. I preferred to simply read and enjoy, which is what I did.

Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy, Money in the Morgue

Having been concerned that it was a dying author’s last chapters, it was a relief to find they were from a long time ago, even if that does make you wonder if Ngaio Marsh was less keen on the whole idea and put the story away for a reason. But it does put the pressure on today’s author to get the period feel right. I think maybe at times the characters in this wartime New Zealand Midsummer Night’s Dream drama talked a little bit modern.

But the crime – theft of a thousand [dollars?] – seems rather mild compared with current tastes in crime. There might have been a murder. Deaths, anyway. I’d almost forgotten crime could be so civilised, even with Roderick Alleyn at the helm. Had completely forgotten that a good detective will be capable of advising couples in love what to do. I used to find that so romantic.

It all happens during one night, at a small New Zealand hospital, in the middle of nowhere. Midsummer – and Christmas – are about to break loose when the money goes missing and the weather gets dramatic, and the full cast of characters run back and forth all over the hospital, agonising over love and money, about going back to war, and soon the disappearing corpses.

Alleyn is on his own, with no Fox at his side, but does find a Bix instead. And he thinks of Troy, and what to tell her about the goings-on. All-in-all, a pleasant return to the past.

Blanks

Where was I? Last week I claimed to have taken a leaf out of Chris Riddell’s book, albeit not literally. He had a blank sketchbook when I saw him, and I simply had to have one too, when I found some for sale in the Bodleian’s shop.

There were several books on a table. All very attractive, but one spoke to me more than the others, despite being a bit beige and plain. It reminded me of something Mother-of-witch might have read when she was young.

Blanks - Anne de Vries, Ratje

Once upon a time it had presumably been a Dutch children’s novel, whereas now it ‘just’ had the cover, with blank pages inside for Riddell masterpieces, or stupid words by me. The author was Anne de Vries, and I was rather taken aback to discover that Anne was a man.

Anyway, Anne’s book is called Ratje, Een jongen van de straat, which I take to mean Ratje was a child of the street. He looks it, if you apply the standards of maybe 80 years ago. Haven’t found a date for the story.

It’s a bit worn, and a bit watermarked. It’s lovely.

Blanks

As with that other notebook I told you about once, chances are I will never ruin it by writing in it… And it wasn’t quite as cheap, I have to admit.

Votes for women!

OK, I didn’t actually vote with my feet and leave the event with Sally Nicholls and Sheena Wilkinson on Saturday. It felt far too important and interesting, but as with the suffragettes, I had a fight on my hands to be allowed to sit where I needed to sit. Seems we haven’t won yet.

Votes for women

A group of suffragettes set the tone, starting the event by singing, which made it easier to imagine what it might have been like, at the time. And having a chair, Manon Bradley, from the Women’s Equality Party, was a nice move. The room was pretty full, but as someone asked, ‘where are the boys? Is our work not done yet?’ I’m guessing it’s down to the parents whether they think to take their sons to a suffragette book event. Or not. They certainly took their daughters. As did I.

Sally started off with a reading from Things a Bright Girl Can Do; the part where they march in Hampstead. Sheena followed with her Star by Star, about Stella who ends up moving to relatives in Ireland when her mother dies from the Spanish flu. The excerpt from a dinner table discussion about women voting, made me really want to read the book.

Sally Nicholls

Both Sally and Sheena had been offered the opportunity of writing their books, and both of them managed to resist the idea for maybe ten seconds before caving in. Sally had already written on the subject in her War Girls short story, about the women who could never marry, while Sheena was inspired by a fantastic history teacher at school.

Sheena Wilkinson

Sheena loves research. She read the newspapers for details, one example of which was so gruesome I’ve chosen to forget it already. They both seem to like their heroines angry. Sally particularly enjoyed the language, making Evelyn angry, and Sheena’s Stella fights for what she wants.

Sally prefers to write directly, saving the editing until later. She doesn’t write chronologically, so has several scenes on the go. Sheena admires Sylvia Pankhurst, and spoke about an Irish heroine and fine writer [whose name I didn’t catch…].

Votes for women

And I’d say the girls who came, went away feeling empowered. The best for me, though, were the personal memories relating to the suffragette movement, shared by some of the older women in the audience.

The Children of Willesden Lane

This is not a fictional tale about WWII, but the memoirs of Lisa Jura, who at the age of 14 came to London from Vienna with the Kindertransport. Written by Lisa’s daughter Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen, it is a simplified version of what Lisa used to tell Mona about as she grew up.

It lacks a little of the good quality story that you come to expect from this topic, but in the end I found I just wanted to see what Lisa’s life would have been like in England during the war. And as with many other books about refugees in the past, the reader marvels at how differently [from today] the new arrivals were treated by the British. At how many opportunities were offered them, even during the war.

And it makes you feel ashamed.

Lisa was one of three sisters, chosen by her parents for her age – not too young and not too old – and for her skills in playing the piano. They hoped she would be able to make something of herself in a new country.

Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, The Children of Willesden Lane

Things didn’t always go to plan, but the new arrivals were looked after. In Lisa’s case in a house full of child refugees, in Willesden Lane in London. And that confirms my theory that when you lose someone, while no one can replace dear family members, if you have someone else, your life isn’t empty. The children of Willesden Lane had each other, and they were looked after and loved by Mrs Cohen.

While not unique, this is still a very heartwarming, true story. Bad things happened, but the good things carried people through.

I would like to hope for a few more Lisas today.