Category Archives: History

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone

From St Kilda (again) to Northern Ireland and straight into my own past. Adrian McKinty’s third – and hopefully not last – Sean Duffy novel changes so much of real history as to make me wonder whether things actually happened as he says. It’s plausible enough.

The first two Duffy books brought back modern Irish history and reminded me of what it was like back in the early 1980s. This one, set in 1984, takes several steps further, involving the IRA and the British Government in the most satisfying of ways.

Duffy is no fool. He was unlucky at the end of the second book, but he soon bounces back in his own inimitable way. He gets faced with a locked room mystery which is very interesting on its own. But it’s the ramifications it might have on the IRA terrorist at large after a jailbreak which make it better still.

Adrian McKinty, In the Morning I'll Be Gone

I’ve said it before and I have to say it again; Adrian just doesn’t get any better than when he writes about his home town of Carrickfergus. Admittedly, he wasn’t an adult in the early 1980s, but he makes things up very well indeed.

You could read this book first, but you’d be a fool not to start with the right Duffy novel and read them in order. You’ll thank me for it. Seeing as In the Morning I’ll Be Gone isn’t published for another few weeks, you will have just enough time to read the first two.

(If I hadn’t already interviewed Adrian, I’d be off to do so now. And they say the UK television rights have been sold. Northern Ireland is bound to be the new Scandinavia…)

Goth wins Costa

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

Congratulations to Chris Riddell for winning the Costa children’s book award with Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. Both Ada and the poor little mouse deserve this. And so does my favourite political cartoonist author.

(I have to admit I suspected Chris would win when I saw that Josh Lacey had reviewed the book for the Guardian on Saturday.)

Winning such an award is no less than you would expect for a book that has ‘shiny purple sprayed edges … foil endpieces, … ribbon bookmark, … footnotes in the margin.’ It is not just a pretty book. It’s an intelligent one, as well. It is a book that makes for a good read whatever your age. And in times of need you can always stroke the sheer purpleness of it.

Chris Riddell

It would be very nice indeed if Chris could go on and win the ‘full Costa’ on 28th January. More power to children’s books!

FA and the PM

The Favourite Aunt, who would have been 105 today, was a fervent Social Democrat (i.e. Labour). With her modest beginnings, that was hardly surprising, and back in the 1920s and 30s it must have been an exciting time to be working for our future.

F Aunt

She rose from low paid jobs on the textile factory floor to close to the top of the textile workers’ union, which had its office in her home town, since that town was also the textile industry town in Sweden.

Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson was also born there, and he started his political life at Folkets Hus. 25 years his senior, Favourite Aunt will have seemed old to him. Although I expect he was a polite young man and thought no such thoughts.

Fast forward about three decades and Ingvar had become Prime Minister. He was on a visit to his former home town and I believe they had invited some of the local stalwarts to Folkets Hus to meet him.

Favourite Aunt was running late, if running is an appropriate term for someone aged 80. So, as she steamed into the foyer of Folkets Hus, the Prime Minister and his entourage were already on their way out.

FA being who she was, didn’t hesitate, just walked up to him and – very tongue-in-cheek – said ‘hello’ and did he ‘remember working with her in the 1950s?’ (How they could even allow this, post-Palme assassination I don’t know.)

The PM didn’t bat an eyelid as he replied that of course he did. And maybe he did. Sometimes we remember stuff from the early years.

I like to think I inherited some of that ‘crazy’ from FA. Not just the fruit plates.

The Beatles

You certainly feel your age when Offspring come home from school, tasked to enquire whether their parents were alive when The Beatles were around. Does it make you very old? Or is it merely that teachers have grown disproportionately young? The one who asked this was actually very nice, and a good teacher. Nevertheless, I felt ancient. (Since when does pop music belong in history lessons?)

Because, yes, I was around, back when.

It doesn’t mean I know, or remember, every fact about The Fab Four, but I do recall the general feel of the era. Although I need to point out I was obviously very young when all this happened. Ahem. To prove it I can tell you I had to rely on Mother-of-witch to read what the newspapers wrote about the long-haired Liverpool lads.

For Christmas 1963 I was given a record player, and my first record, She Loves You. The Aunts disapproved of all this foreign stuff. After all, there were people around who sang in a language you could understand. But I sang happily along to She Loves You and all the others, without having any idea of what they, and I, were singing about.

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, The Beatles

Now my fellow countrywoman Brita Granström and her husband Mick Manning have produced a very nice illustrated reference book on The Beatles. I have learned things I didn’t know before. I have been reminded of what was so special about John, Paul, George and Ringo. And I remembered why I half ditched them in the end.

Brita’s pictures tell more of a story than words do, and together she and Mick have made a fab book about what came before The Beatles made it big 50 years ago, what happened once they did, and how it all ended. I know more now about their early lives (including getting some unexpected help with a quiz question I came across the same day I read the book), and I properly understand how the haircut came to be. I’ve even had a new and better explanation to their name.

Whether you’re the right side of 50, or just ten and wondering who The Beatles really were, this is the book for you. I happen to have a good friend who likes all things Beatles. I will not be passing my copy on to him.

Just thought I’d mention that. He can buy his own.

The Book of Dead Days

This has been the perfect in-between-days read. 270 pages of ‘dead stuff’ spread out over the five days leading up to New Year’s Eve. I managed to fit in my daily quota just as it was intended, which rather added to my feeling of satisfaction.

Marcus Sedgwick, The Book of Dead Days

I say ‘dead stuff’ and by that I mean suitably cosy horror; nothing too gruesome. Set in a nicely atmospheric fictional city somewhere in Europe – probably at the end of a fictional 19th century during those dead days after Christmas – there is snow and there are orphans and weird scientists. In short, everything you need during those days that are neither one thing nor the other.

Boy (that’s his name) is assistant to Valerian who works in the theatre. That’s where he meets Willow, who assists the fat lady who sings. Valerian grows rather strange in the dead days, by which we have to understand stranger than usual. He seems haunted, and he leads Boy and Willow on a hunt for something. Something that might save him. He’s got until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

It is cold, and it is dark, and Boy is hungry as usual. Valerian veers between his normal cruel behaviour and being almost kind and normal.

This is such a nice and easy and effortless read, while not being simple or intended for younger readers. Very, very enjoyable.

Darcy, death and the literary discussion

Death Comes to Pemberley sparked a literary discussion chez Bookwitch, and doesn’t that make us sound ‘intellectual?’ The Grandmother had read the book by P D James, and didn’t think much of it. She was keen to see what they’d done to it on television, though, and I am under the impression we all liked it.

That’s the thing with quality. A good book can be ruined on the screen and vice versa. You just never know. Daughter objected at first that we weren’t getting the 1995 cast from Pride and Prejudice, but warmed fairly quickly to this new Darcy. I didn’t know what to think of dear Wickham, because I need to dislike him, and I happen to like Matthew Goode…

But anyway, it made us talk books for a while (because we never ever mention the wretched things at any other time!)

Who counts as an author of classics? Jane Austen obviously does. Her books are really old. Victorians count. They too are old. But after that my ‘misguided’ companions wanted to put the classic label on all sorts of books by all sorts of recent writers!

I realise that classic-ness is a moving feast. What wasn’t a classic before, will become one at some point. My own gut measure is somewhere around the 100 years mark. If someone alive today was also alive when a novel was written, it becomes questionable. I know that the 1950s was a long time ago, but I happen to have personal experience of part of that decade and the people who wrote books then are not at all old, thank you very much!

So I’m not ready to consider Astrid Lindgren a writer of classic books, whereas I feel that Selma Lagerlöf might have been too recent fifty years ago, but is now definitely to be considered a writer of classics.

On the other hand, I see the flaws in this. Someone younger than me will share that same 100-year-old, but will also see Astrid Lindgren as dreadfully ancient. Is there a right way?

We’re on track

More or less, anyway. The morning will be spent sorting out desserts (because they matter) and putting vegetables in the oven. The rest was done days ago.

Our other main day for Christmas was yesterday, and it went well, despite – or possibly because of – lack of presents. The Resident IT Consultant went into town to pick up a pair of Cats, free of charge, which rather trumped Son’s 20% off his Clarks. So they count as almost presents. He also treated himself to a remaindered Historical Atlas, and has happily browsed through history.

Daughter went along to watch over the Cats, and managed to find a Quiz book to buy. Because we just didn’t have VERY MANY books in the house before!!

Anyway, her quiz book provided us with our Christmas Eve entertainment as we competed against each other to see who knew the least about whichever topic came up.

To keep us company over the evening grazing, Son found us an Ealing comedy about trains. And then he wanted to watch Due South, and with all of us at different points in its viewing history, we needed a ‘used’ episode. I can thoroughly recommend All the Queen’s Horses, and not just because it’s the craziest episode. It felt pretty Christmassy, what with the snow and the trains and those red Mountie uniforms. The horses. And the singing! ‘Gonna riiiiide, foreeever..!’

The Resident IT Consultant helped to finish the evening in style, as he’d missed last week’s Christmas episode of NCIS, and Son had been too busy to watch, which meant I got to watch it again. It was Santa who did it.

Gibbs

Don’t be late

You could interpret the above suggestion as a ‘don’t forget to return your library books on time,’ but there is also a slight warning about being dead, i.e. the other kind of ‘late.’

I’d not previously connected Christmas with ghost stories, but after the Christmas anthology I reviewed yesterday, I’m beginning to realise that some people do. I’m obviously not ‘some people.’

It’s been a while since Halloween, but I shall treat you to the recording of Helen Grant reading one of three ghost stories at Innerpeffray Library on the evening of October 31st. (That’s mere hours before Helen succeeded in getting stuck in the mud in a graveyard in the middle of the night…)

Here is Lilith’s Story. And here‘s Helen on her blog, enthusing about ghosts and Christmas. Whatever happened to light and happiness? (You might also consider very carefully if you really think becoming a librarian is a wise career move.)

Innerpeffray Library

At last!

I’m doing it! I’m actually, finally reading it! ‘It’ being An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories from 1986, edited by Dennis Pepper.

Dennis Pepper, An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Having bought the book well used from the school library ‘some’ years back, I always meant to read it over the immediate Christmas period. The one about ten years ago… The book emerged every December and waited hopefully by my side and then it retreated after yet another busy busy Christmas, where I got round to reading one book instead of the half dozen I’d fondly imagined I’d be relaxing with.

There are about 30 short stories, written by everybody from Dickens to Geraldine McCaughrean. (You have to remember the collection is 27 years old. Some authors hadn’t even been invented back then.)

I understand some stories were commissioned, while others have been chosen for their Christmassy theme from classics and elsewhere. Some authors I’d never heard of, while the story by Jacqueline Wilson is like no JW story you’ve ever read.

Jesus is there, from the school nativity to actual Bethlehem, but mostly you get a tremendous amount of carol singing, with a few ghosts and the odd vampire. More vicars and snowy landscapes than you can shake a stick at, so really very traditional. It’s nice. The stories are mostly no more than five pages each, so they make for quick nostalgic dips in between whatever else you need to do at this time of year.

I was especially happy to get re-acquainted with David Henry Wilson’s Jeremy James, who Son and I used to like a lot. Among the other names that I do know are Jan Mark, Sue Townsend, James Riordan, Laurie Lee and Robert Swindells. But as with so many anthologies you don’t need to know the writers. You simply discover new-old authors as you read along.

In a way it’s quite good I waited, because I’m enjoying myself. I’ve still got a few stories to go, but I’ve also got a few more days until I ‘must’ read a ‘mellandags’ book. I shall explain that one later.

The Green Behind the Glass

It wasn’t lost, exactly. Nor forgotten. But it was lucky I decided to sort through The Books Behind the Door the other day. Because that’s where I discovered The Green Behind the Glass by Adèle Geras. I’d like to think that its purpose in hiding there was to give me more pleasure when I found it again.

This brief volume of eight short stories about love is a true period piece. Published in 1982, the stories are typical of what fiction for teens was like back then, and I have to say (am I showing my age?) I miss that kind of story every now and then. And Adèle is very good with short stories. She’s good with love.

Adèle Geras, The Green Behind the Glass

It’s not all straigtforward love, either. Some of the stories end badly; others end unexpectedly, perhaps leaving the character(s) with a new kind of life to look ahead to. Not happy ever after. But hope.

The first story is about – possibly – unrequited love in WWI. Plus the fact that war was rather bad for other reasons. Then there’s the girl who helps a friend to write love letters, falling in love with the recipient of them. Paris when you’re young and poor, but can sing in the streets to earn some money. Paris = love. For some.

In one story the teenage girl and her mother both fall in love with the same, useless, man. Falling in love with the wrong person is a common problem, and there is more unrequited love in Monday.

Then we have the sixth former in the 1950s, at boarding school away from his home in Borneo (very nicely done, but then Adèle knows what she’s writing about), who meets a kind of Mrs Robinson. Or the young girl who leads such a  sheltered life that it’s a miracle there can be any love story at all.

Finally, the young unmarried couple who find they are pregnant, which was less acceptable thirty years ago.

This whole book was like a gift from the past. Which – literally – it was. Thank you Adèle! I shall try and keep better control of The Books Behind the Door in future.