Category Archives: History

Prime reading

It took me a while to work out why the Barrington Stoke edition of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was so thick. OK, around 250 pages isn’t much, except when it comes to dyslexia friendly books we have come to expect half of that. While I’d noticed there wasn’t another author credited with having ‘rewritten/adapted’ the novel, it wasn’t until I began to read that I saw the word ‘unabridged.’

And, well, I approve even more of that. If a novel isn’t too long, or made up of too many difficult words, then it could, and should, be made available in a format that means more people are able to read it.

I still think of my former decorator and his delight in being able to ‘read a whole book.’ While he might not be prime Jean Brodie material, I can see that many other dyslexic adults will be.

So there we have it. If you print it differently, using the right kind of paper, the right kind of colour of paper and print and a typeface that is designed to be easier to read, a book becomes accessible to – perhaps – almost all. Maybe there aren’t the funds to do this with all of literature, but we could have a go to make more friendly books, couldn’t we?

Especially with such gorgeous covers.

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Medicinal Wein

As I keep saying, reading is good stuff. It’s medicine to the soul, and for that matter, to the body as well. We should all do it more.

But it’s easy to ‘forget.’ You stop, even briefly, and then you don’t get started again.

After Philip Pullman in October, and the flamingo book, Daughter tailed off a bit. The other week I dug out all my best books, of the ones she hadn’t yet read. Well, some of them. Most came from the privileged shelf next to my bed, where only the best books live.

And I thought that rather than hand her one book and try and push it, a selection of seven or eight might do the trick. Not sure how she chose, but I did notice she spent some time looking at them and thinking. In the end she went for Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, the prequel to Code Name Verity.

It went the way good books often do. Faster and faster, so it didn’t last long. I was asked questions, which I tried to avoid answering. Like ‘is X a good character or a bad one?’ I mean, I can’t tell her that!

The next one was the other Elizabeth Wein book I’d had in mind, Black Dove, White Raven. That, too, speeded up as she went along.

In case Daughter needed even more Wein books, I excavated the two Barrington Stoke stories as well; the Russian one and the Polish one. After them I have only other authors to offer, as we wait with baited breath for the new novel – The Enigma Game –  coming soon (I hope) to a bookshop near you. And me.

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

One shot Tanya

Very pleased to announce that Tanya Landman has won the Scottish Book Trust’s Scottish Teenage Book Prize for One Shot, published by Barrington Stoke.

As you may recall, One Shot was inspired by the life of Annie Oakley, but fictionalised so that it is a story in its own right, about another young girl who’s good with a rifle.

This is what Tanya had to say: “I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be good with words, but I find it really hard to describe how utterly delighted and thrilled I am to win the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2020. One Shot is a really special book to me – it was the one that got me writing again after my husband’s death – so for teenage readers to find it special enough to vote for is incredibly moving.“

I quite liked it too…

When the dentist calls twice

Or the five-coat crofter.

Well, the dentist called, to say he had a cancellation in an hour, if I wanted to come. Wanted to? Is he not a dentist? I turned him down. I had another ten days before it was my turn. Besides, I was just on my way back to bed after half a breakfast. I mean, half a breakfast! I never have just half a breakfast.

When I woke up I had an email, which suggested the dentist had called again, so I checked with the Resident IT Consultant (who had been forced to honour my appointment with the hairdresser, rather than cancel. Good thing he had some spare hair), and yes, it seems there had been a second call.

This time they’d had a patient talking about her university course homework, jokingly asking if he knew any Swedish-speakers. Well, yes, he did. And the Swedish-speaker’s husband said it was fine to email her, despite the bed situation.

So I found myself staring at three pages from some parish records in Öster-götland in the 1880s. As you do. Basically, some poor man had died and this was an inventory of what he left behind. It’s quite interesting, actually.

He had five coats! Five! He only owned three shirts. And one pair of trousers. The coats were valued at three times the amount for the bed and the sofa, together. There might have been a metal chamberpot, too.

The handwriting’s a bit taxing, but luckily I’m so old I have been taught joined-up writing of that very kind at school. I could read most of it.

But, I mean, five coats!

Stoppard in Vienna

When I read the article in The Jewish Chronicle about Tom Stoppard’s new play – Leopoldstadt – I realised I’d forgotten about going to the theatre. I wonder when that happened?

I used to keep a sharp eye open for anything I might be interested in. Distance to London, first from Brighton, then from Manchester, and now from Scotland (it’s getting worse) played a part in weaning me off the stage. Yes, I know you can go to the theatre in these other places too, but some of the freshest and most exciting things come to London first, and sometimes never leave it.

By now I’ve got jaded enough that I see there are plays, but know I won’t go.

And then there was Leopoldstadt, where to be truthful, it was the name that caught my attention, having stayed there when Daughter and I were in Vienna 15 months ago. So I read the article, and then felt I’d quite like to go and see the play.

I looked up tickets, without knowing when I might actually cart myself off to London. They were expensive, and more so than its own website claimed. Maybe I looked at the wrong dates. Most of them were pretty solidly booked up, with only a few seats here and there. Clearly I should have known about this sooner.

But I’m glad it’s on, and that people are buying tickets and going to see Leopoldstadt. And I might experience a miracle. At least relieved my enthusiasm has returned.