Tag Archives: Joan Lingard

A Proper Place

We are currently thinking about and talking about refugees and immigrants more than we have for a long time, which means that the story belonging to Joan Lingard’s Sadie and Kevin feels more pertinent than ever. But rather as with the Jewish refugees in the 1930s, so it has become with the Irish who came thirty or forty years later. They are considered mainstream, in light of our most recent immigrants or asylum seekers.

They are, aren’t they? It can’t be just me? And if people have mostly got used to and accepted these older arrivals, then it is fair to assume that we will one day feel like this about whoever we worry about today; be they Syrians or Afghans, or even these ridiculous EU citizens from the Netherlands or Spain who were under the impression they belonged.

At least Kevin and Sadie were allowed to come and live in England. They were poor and not always accepted, and they had to make do with the worst accommodation and look grateful, while working hard to get somewhere. The scenario is one we’ve seen countless times. What I find fascinating is how hard Kevin works at whatever jobs he can find, while Sadie does the wifely tasks expected of females back then, and equally hard. They are no lazy layabouts.

In the fourth book, A Proper Place, they have left London and are living in Liverpool with their baby son. Sadie is learning that she can get to know people and make friends in every new place she comes to. She needs friends, and people to chat to.

Family is at the heart of everything here too. Sadie’s mother comes to visit, and no sooner have they survived this ordeal but Kevin’s ‘bad’ brother Gerald turns up. I was all set to see him on the IRA front line, but there are surprises everywhere.

Needing to look for a new job, Kevin moves the little family to a farm in Cheshire, and after initial teething problems, they are happy there. Sadie continues to learn to get on with just about everybody she meets, both through her friendliness and her hard work for what matters to her.

Behind their successes lie normal problems such as married life, belonging to two opposing religions, being hard up and always being the newcomers. Gerald and the rest of the McCoy clan in Tyrone don’t exactly help smooth things.

You have to love these two for how they cope. Wonderfully inspirational!

Into Exile

Last we saw them, Kevin and Sadie were leaving Belfast in a hurry. In the third of Joan Lingard’s novels about the two teenagers from Northern Ireland, they are living in – relative – squalor in London. Married at Gretna Green, they are struggling to earn money, wanting to find somewhere better to live, but knowing this is all they can have for the moment. Both miss their tight-knit lives from their respective Belfast neighbourhoods.

But they discover that it is possible to make new friends and slowly life gets better, until a few new spanners are thrown into the works for them, in the shape of new workmates, girls down at the pub, an admirer for Sadie, and family troubles at home.

They know they want to be together, but it is so hard to keep going when life gets tough.

This is a beautiful time capsule, taking some of us back to the early 1970s, reminding us what things were like in those pre-historic days. And what this really is, is a typical tale of displaced people. It doesn’t matter which decade or where those people came from or why. There is always hardship, and suspicion from the locals, and even a lot of prejudice from the newcomers. I suspect this will never change.

Also, Sadie is very young – well, they both are – and impetuous, and it’s not easy not to spend too much money or not to want to go out and have fun. But Sadie happens to have a knack for making friends anywhere, which is a good thing, because you do need people when life is tough.

In Into Exile it seems as if most of their worries stem from the family back in Belfast, but they can’t go back. Or can they?

Sometimes all you need is a new colourful mug to cheer you up.

Across the Barricades

As I said, I could barely wait to read Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades after The Twelfth Day of July. It has the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends, but it has stopped feeling even a little bit cosy. Three years on, Kevin is 17 and Sadie is 16 – which back then seems to have almost counted as being adult – when they unexpectedly meet up again.

Joan Lingard, Across the Barricades

Things are much worse in Belfast; barbed wire everywhere and disturbances and violence have become daily occurences and seemingly normal, even to peaceful and ‘normal’ people. Childhood friendships are falling apart, when people find themselves on opposite sides, and I don’t mean religious ones, but whether or not they want to live peacefully or if they prefer to go on the attack against people who’ve not done anything to them.

As we can see today too, prejudice is rife and you hate on principle. This makes it harder for our young couple, who find that they very much want to keep seeing each other, while also realising that the other one will be much safer if they can stay away.

What a choice!

Just as it is upsetting to see how blinkered some people were (are), it is reassuring to find the odd ones who can see both sides of the coin and who are normal and decent human beings.

Even as their situation darkens, you want to read on and on. And knowing that this is anchored in recent history, you know that not everything can be fine, just like that. People will die, and they will be injured. Others will be upset, because separation of some sort is unavoidable.

I just want more.

The Twelfth Day of July

Oh, what a pleasure it is to read one of those books you know you should have read years ago, but somehow never got to!

Joan Lingard, The Twelfth Day of July

My latest such delight is Joan Lingard’s The Twelfth Day of July, set in Belfast in the very late 1960s. It is easy to succumb to nostalgia for a place and a period you never experienced, and it’s easy to make light of exactly how (un)charming it might have been to live in Belfast and having to avoid contact with the other half of your home city.

Kevin and Sadie come from opposing sides, and both have been taught well by their families and religious leaders how right they are and how bad and wrong the other side is. It’s actually heartening to see how much 14 or 15-year-olds heed their elders. Being the same age as them, I can see both the similarities and the vast differences between our lives.

Sadie and her brother Tommy are looking forward to the 12th of July, like it’s Christmas and their birthdays rolled into one (which is something I was unaware of; having had no clue quite how big this day is/was). And Kevin and his friends and his book-reading sister Brede want to avoid the day altogether.

What’s fascinating is how similar their lives are, mere streets apart, without them knowing. Both communities are close-knit, and people know everything about each other. Which is why it almost seems impossible how it’s not immediately obvious when the two sides accidentally get to know each other a bit.

Yes, they hate each other, and think up one thing worse than the other to do to their enemies. But you can tell they are also discovering more kinship than they could have imagined.

And the twelfth? Will two of them march against the others?

Nearly fifty years on, and a peace treaty or two later, it’s easy to have forgotten what we read in the papers back then. But it’s very interesting to see how the other half lived. For me it was the North Sea dividing us, while for them it was just one road.

It goes without saying that I now desperately require the other four books about Sadie and Kevin. The first two are about to be reissued by Puffin.

2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards

I encountered Elizabeth Wein at Stirling station as I caught the train to Glasgow yesterday morning. We were both heading to the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I missed my train,’ she replied, which might have been true, but I wanted to know why she missed it in Stirling, seeing as Elizabeth has her own perfectly good railway station from which to miss trains. I met ‘Mr Wein’ who is very nice, but unfortunately I gave him the wet handshake. Sorry! I wasn’t expecting to be socialising that early.

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We made it to the Glasgow Central Hotel, along with 1000 children and most of the shortlisted authors for this year’s award. Not having missed ‘my’ train, I arrived just in time for the photoshoot, where school children posed with their favourite authors. We were only a little bit in the way of hotel staff and their drinks trolleys and things, and there was an umbrella in my way and my camera stopped working for a bit, and someone mistook Elizabeth’s lovely book for photographic support…

Black Dove, White Raven - 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

I repaired to the Green Room, managing to lose most of my marbles on the way. Apologies to anyone subjected to my complete lack of conversational skills. (Age and sleep deprivation, I reckon.) Chatted to ‘Mrs Danny Weston’ and Lindsey Fraser, who was there representing Joan Lingard. I turned down the kind offer of exclusive interviews in place of informal gossip. And not every event has someone whose job it is to go round hunting for The Blue Feather. (Never discovered if it was found.)

Refreshed by a cup of tea, I went to the awards ceremony for the Older Readers, where Danny talked of [non-pc] battleaxes, and of wanting to terrorise children, which he did very nicely with a picture of ‘those dolls.’ Elizabeth impressed the audience with a photo of herself on top of an airborne plane. Lindsey took a photo of us to show Joan, and described how Joan uses an iPad for all her research.

Two students did an interview with the authors and there was a Q&A session, which revealed how Danny runs after his characters with a notebook in his hand, to see what they will do, and Elizabeth said she always has to tell her book cover artist that they’ve got the wrong plane… There were prizes for best book reviews (they won an author!), and then there was the Scottish Children’s Book Award which went to Danny Weston for The Piper. He thanked his wife, his editor Charlie Sheppard and his ‘friend’ Philip Caveney who taught him everything he knows.

Elizabeth Wein at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

Having brought loads – well, five – books to be signed, I joined the queues and was given a model plane to make by Elizabeth. Danny’s queue was too long so I went for lunch instead. Found Gillian Philip tackling the sandwiches, and we talked about motherhood and kelpies. Elizabeth Laird asked who I was, so I explained that I’m the one who always emails her after every event. She wondered if she ever writes back, and I assured her she always does.

The other morning session, which I had to miss, was for the [youngest] Bookbug Readers, and the winners were Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. Simon will be carrying his prize around for a couple of days, until he gets home. While ‘Mrs Weston’ secured sandwiches for her hubby I went and joined his queue, which had shrunk a little. Elizabeth Wein was interviewed on camera by someone, and I had the pleasure of witnessing another wet handshake, so at least I’m not the only one.

Danny Weston at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

The Younger Readers award session started after lunch, with host Fergus introducing Gillian Philip, Liz Laird and Ross MacKenzie. When Fergus said they were going to read to us, they rebelled and said they were not. They’d decided to do things differently. (Good for them!)

Gillian talked about island holidays, cliffhangers, Saturday cinema and had a photo of the cutest puppy in a teacup. Her – very – early work consisted of many three-page books. Liz talked about Ethiopia and the running everyone does there, and mentioned the Emperor’s lion in 1968, and said she wasn’t guilty of that murder she was accused of. She also writes her books on the backs of used paper. (My kind of woman.) Ross described how you can find magic shops almost anywhere if you just look closely, and said an early reading memory was The Witches at school.

2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

After a very successful game of Consequences (it’s funny how funny those little stories always are), it was time for more prizes for reviews (another author), as well as a prize for best book trailer (most professional). And then Ross MacKenzie went and won his category of the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards for The Nowhere Emporium. He did the usual, thanking his parents and his wife and his children and all those other people he might have forgotten.

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The children queued up to have books signed, and I went to find a train to take me home. Which means I didn’t take any more of my failed photos of Liz. I suppose there’s always next time.

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.