Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A Voice Actor’s Perspective - ANNE DOVER

 

Anne Dover: Meeting Wendy Robertson, and collaborating with her as her narrator for the recent Siblings project, (broadcast on Bishop FM Dec 2021 - listen at  https://damselflybooks.com/bishop-fm/ -  has been an honour and a total delight. 

Wendy R: And a delight for me, Scroll down to see the whole of this story...

Anne Dover: I am what is termed a voice actor, and for the last 30 odd years I have been lucky to have narrated over 1,000 audiobooks, including several written by Wendy. I am particularly drawn to her characters, as they always have depth and heart, and as my job is to give a voice to them she helps make the narration a joy. Also I grew up not far away from Bishop Auckland, where she is based, so we share many points of interest.

I am often asked, how I became a ‘voice actor’ and what was my training for such a job?
I suppose I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged my sister and me to read aloud, and - as was fairly common among the rural Durham mining community, where I lived - our entertainment was self-made. No T.V. in those days, although we had a radio, and a piano around which we would sing, and would harmonise anything that my Mother could play _ hymns mostly, and some light opera ballads. My Dad’s Welsh blood had given him a lovely tenor voice, and he had learned somewhere about voice projection, and gave us vocal tips to make the best of our homespun performances.

Our Sundays were spent at the Wesleyan chapel in Willington in County Durham, where concerts were held and my sister and I had to recite poetry and sing at the Sunday School Anniversaries. Sometimes we had to compete against each other at Eisteddfods, which I suppose were begun I suppose when the Welsh miners merged with the Durham community.

My Dad, who worked at the local colliery, was encouraged to become a ‘local’ preacher and had a certain presence and we formed ‘Mr. Roberts and his singing family’!  As a result, my sister and I were used to and enjoyed getting up on any stage to perform. She became a successful Cabaret singer, while I left Durham for Newcastle just as Tyne Tees TV studios began broadcasting. I was a fashion model at the time  - in the 60’s - and was asked one day to make an appearance on a T.V show, which in turn led to an opportunity to voice a T.V commercial, and that was the beginning of my vocal career.

In my family, we were never told to be quiet. Every book we read was an opportunity to act it out. So, using the voice for performing purposes was second nature, and my sister and I used to copy accents and voices for fun, just to make each other laugh. After I left school, I got a job as Receptionist and Telephonist at a local garment factory, where I enjoyed practicing my ‘posh’ voice on the telephone, and as a bonus was given the task of ‘modelling’ the coats for the factory owner when he came up from London. (The reality was that as I was 17 and skinny, all the coats were too big, and I was derided because the coats didn’t fit). But when the boss’s wife arrived - French, petite extremely glamorous, with poodle tucked under her arm - I amused myself by trying to copy her accent and longed for her style.

The main character I remember, in my first audiobook, was a Liverpool girl from the slums, so I listened endlessly to Cilla Black speaking, and simply copied her voice which I could hear in my head while I was recording.

So in fact I never did have any form of training, it was just something I found, when given the chance, I could do voices and for this I think having a decent ear for music was an enormous bonus. I feel I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.


Nowadays, after Covid, I record from my tiny home studio (actually a walk-in cupboard). Lockdowns meant for some time we travelling bands of audio voice workers were prevented from dashing around the U.K to recording studios and people like me began to record at home, and now, it has itself become a way of life for me. My travelling days are over now, but the voice lingers on and I suppose that as long as publishers and authors desire to hire it, I will be delighted as always to clear my throat, and become the many characters that the audio book requires.


The first audiobooks were designed to help and be used by people with sight loss, but I’m happy to say that the industry is booming, and becoming a way of enjoying a book for sighted people, who simply love being read to as much as I delight in narrating for them. Of course without the authors, we narrators wouldn’t be able to narrate.


Long may they all continue putting pen to paper, and captivating our imaginations, and sometimes ……our souls.

Love to all Listeners….everywhere

Anne Dover.

Anne voices Ayla, who is the storyteller in Siblings.


Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Writer as Outsider

 

 For several years now, perhaps triggered by the isolation engendered by the Covid situation, I have spent much of my time - as I say in a recent blog post (scroll down) - dancing on the border between memoir and fiction.

One outcome of this has been my new collection This has resulted in at least one distinct collection called Siblings: seven distinct stories of a family of seven siblings. The stories are all told by the middle child – called Ayla. She is the storyteller.

This book will be published in the spring but you can listen again to these stories on Bishop FM. 

I have written elsewhere about middle children – for example in my novels The Bad Child and Becoming Alice. Inevitably some observers will say that is this is a deep reflection on my own role as the middle child in a diverse family who relishes the role of the outsider.   

But I would assert that this outsider feeling transforms itself to a creative resource when one is a writer who can reflect on the events going on around her.

There is a poem about this feeling in my book WithSuch Caution – a Life Glimpsed in Short pieces. 

I thought you might like to read it. Here it is, Wx

Outsiderness
 
Being the third child of four
I was bred to be an outsider.
Being the new child from a far town
I was labelled outsider.
 
Talking with the wrong tone
I was seen as a verbal outsider.
Being the cleverest child in class
made me an outsider.
 
Working alongside men
I was the female outsider.
Writing stories made me
a mendacious outsider.
 
Living with a man doesn’t see
I have become an invisible outsider. –
Learning to make myself comfortable
In this ultimate containment.
 
Now, living through to older age
I am an intimate outsider, even
the ultimate outsider, relishing
this … Outsiderness.
 



Thursday, 16 December 2021

SIBLINGS: My stories on Christmas Radio

In my last post here on Life Twice Tasted  (scroll down) I outlined my adventures during Lockdown on the borderline between memoir and fiction as I worked, story by story,   on this new  short story collection  SIBLINGS. In it I argued that  – like many writers of fiction – I am exploring the gap between fiction and  the uniquely true nature of a family’s history, grounded as it is in intricate and deeply observed family experience and liberated by the freedom of creative storytelling.

At last in SIBLINGS  I have now completed the seven stories that are the essential truth emerging from a family spanning the first half of the 20th century. In this process Ayla, the middle sibling, is the storyteller for all the family. One by one she tells the complex stories of her four sisters and two brothers. These children are not alike.  Ayla tells each story with her acute, sometimes idiosyncratic, observations of her much-loved family.

In the long term SIBLINGS has an over- arching narrative linking 1922 to 2022 –starting in 1922 when Ayla is telling us the individual stories of her sisters and brothers, living in a small house in a Durham street under the magisterial care of their ‘Mam’, widowed by the First World War. But the final curve of the arch reached me,  writing these stories during the Covid confinement of 21/22. I am sitting here telling the unique stories of the seven siblings in Ayla’s voice,  truly walking the line between memoir and fiction.

As an experience of writing, this process has the quality of a dream as each distinctive sibling comes to life before me, flowing through the ink of my pen onto the page of my notebook.

My original idea was to record the stories and one by one and provide links to them here on my blog, so you could hear them as well as read the text. For this purpose I turned to Anne Dover the brilliant professional actress who has narrated a number of my novel into audio. Anne has the perfect voice for my Durham prose, incorporating the musicality with  quiet authority and capturing the nuances, the soft tones of our way of speaking. Although she has travelled far and wide with her profession, Anne originally comes from Wolsingham in County Durham, so she starts with an advantage here.

For the final audio edit on the first story BRAM,  I turned to Gillian Campbell of Bishop FM. Having done a great job on this. Gillian suggested to me that the radio station would be interested in broadcasting the SIBLING stories.  

So now it turns out – with the collaboration of Gary Burgham, the Bishop FM programme director - that the seven stories which constitute siblings will be broadcast beginning at 2pm on Christmas Eve.

I will also post them here on my blog week by week. If you would like to see the first of the sibling stories – the story of BRAM the oldest brother – you will note that  the whole text of that story is posted in full on my previous blog post. (Scroll back…).

After they are broadcasts you will be able to listen to to Anne Dover's wonderful narrations.  again here and on Bishop FM .

So this is my Christmas present to you - all the great people who have shown an interest in my work both recently and through the years when my novels emerged into the light.

Wendy R x


From Gary Burgham Programme Director of Bishop FM at

Bishop Auckland author Wendy Robertson has been working on a collection of short stories entitled SIBLINGS, told by the eleven year old middle Sibling, Ayla, set primarily in the year 1922. Although the seven siblings from whom the stories spring are genetically connected to each other and in the subsequent  generations genetically connected to the author, these stories will essentially  be pure fiction, shot through  with fragments of the author's true memory. Siblings will be read by actor Anne Peacock who originates from Wolsingham   and can be heard on Bishop FM on Christmas eve at 2pm and at 2pm each day thereafter. 


Visit Anne Dover, the gifted narrator of SIBLINGS
at
https://www.annedover.co.uk/anne-dover/



 

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

SIBLINGS: My stories on Christmas Radio

 

In my last post here on Life Twice Tasted  (scroll down) I outlined my adventures during Lockdown on the borderline between memoir and fiction as I worked, story by story,   on this new  short story collection  SIBLINGS. In it I argued that  – like many writers of fiction – I am exploring the gap between fiction and  the uniquely true nature of a family’s history, grounded as it is in intricate and deeply observed family experience and liberated by the freedom of creative storytelling.

At last in SIBLINGS  I have now completed the seven stories that are the essential truth emerging from a family spanning the first half of the 20th century. In this process Ayla, the middle sibling, is the storyteller for all the family. One by one she tells the complex stories of her four sisters and two brothers. These children are not alike.  Ayla tells each story with her acute, sometimes idiosyncratic, observations of her much-loved family.

In the long term SIBLINGS has an over- arching narrative linking 1922 to 2022 –starting in 1922 when Ayla is telling us the individual stories of her sisters and brothers, living in a small house in a Durham street under the magisterial care of their ‘Mam’, widowed by the First World War. But the final curve of the arch reached me,  writing these stories during the Covid confinement of 21/22. I am sitting here telling the unique stories of the seven siblings in Ayla’s voice,  truly walking the line between memoir and fiction.

As an experience of writing, this process has the quality of a dream as each distinctive sibling comes to life before me, flowing through the ink of my pen onto the page of my notebook.

My original idea was to record the stories and one by one and provide links to them here on my blog, so you could hear them as well as read the text. For this purpose I turned to Anne Dover the brilliant professional actress who has narrated a number of my novel into audio. Anne has the perfect voice for my Durham prose, incorporating the musicality with  quiet authority and capturing the nuances, the soft tones of our way of speaking. Although she has travelled far and wide with her profession, Anne originally comes from Wolsingham in County Durham, so she starts with an advantage here.

For the final audio edit on the first story BRAM,  I turned to Gillian Campbell of Bishop FM. Having done a great job on this. Gillian suggested to me that the radio station would be interested in broadcasting the SIBLING stories.  

So now it turns out – with the collaboration of Gary Burgham, the Bishop FM programme director - that the seven stories which constitute siblings will be broadcast beginning at 2pm on Christmas Eve.

I will also post them here on my blog week by week. If you would like to see the first of the sibling stories – the story of BRAM the oldest brother – you will note that  the whole text of that story is posted in full on my previous blog post. (Scroll back…).

After they are broadcasts you will be able to listen to to Anne Dover's wonderful narrations.  again here and on Bishop FM .

So this is my Christmas present to you - all the great people who have shown an interest in my work both recently and through the years when my novels emerged into the light.

Wendy R x


From Gary Burgham Programme Director of Bishop FM at

Bishop Auckland author Wendy Robertson has been working on a collection of short stories entitled SIBLINGS, told by the eleven year old middle Sibling, Ayla, set primarily in the year 1922. Although the seven siblings from whom the stories spring are genetically connected to each other and in the subsequent  generations genetically connected to the author, these stories will essentially  be pure fiction, shot through  with fragments of the author's true memory. Siblings will be read by actor Anne Peacock who originates from Wolsingham   and can be heard on Bishop FM on Christmas eve at 2pm and at 2pm each day thereafter. 


Visit Anne Dover, the gifted narrator of SIBLINGS
at
https://www.annedover.co.uk/anne-dover/





 .

 

 

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Dancing the Shadowy Line Between Memoir and Fiction

 

Dancing the Shadowy Line Between Memoir and Fiction


I don’t  know whether it’s the Lockdown or the enclosed life of being a carer -- (the latter being a version of Lockdown, I suppose) - but the notion of memoir is very much on my mind these days.

In my rare moments of literary reflection I am working on a collection of short stories emerging from the lives of seven siblings in the nexus of 1922. This collection will be entitled SIBLINGS.

I am driven to think so deeply about this shadowy line between memoir and fiction because I will be enjoying the  privilege next Sunday 24th of October of being part of the Weardale WordFest 2021 22- 24 October  

My role in Stanhope on Sunday afternoon will be to have tea and cakes with readers and writers and  share a conversation about living a writer’s life and the instinctual function of memory in my novels and stories. See them   HERE

I have just posted about my ideas about all this HERE on my blog. 

In thinking about this theme of the shadowy line between fiction an memoir I will certainly touch on  my current  writing project Siblings,  a collection of seven individual stories called told by the eleven year old middle Sibling, Ayla, set primarily  in the year 1922.

Although the seven siblings from whom the stories spring are genetically connected to each other and in the subsequent  generations genetically connected to me, these stories will essentially  be pure fiction, just as my  numerous published novels and short stories are pure fiction, although – as I will explain - they are shot through  with fragments of true memory - my own and others’. These seven stories told from the point of view of the this middle child are entirely separate, each Sibling existing in their own universe,

In my own substantial writing life I’ve come to realise that literary expression and story-making are not the purview of the privileged literary middle classes. My own life experience informs me that depth and quality of literary expression is embedded the conscious experience of every family where literate reflection and story-telling is an ongoing aspect of that family environment, whatever their cultural location in our multi-layered society.

Holding this view I now take note of a new awareness of this in the welcome flowering of attention from publishers, agents and reviewers of writing emerging from previously marginalised social and racial groups in our society. I welcome this with a full heart. It is overdue.

I have observed that in my own marginalised group at the bottom of the class structure in English society, that the custom of intricate in intergenerational storytelling has served as the key to our literary existence and educational success.  This view is informed by the fact that my own family emerges from the so-called “disadvantaged” working class, being “Northern”, working class and originally in manual jobs if working at all.

I am very much aware of the convenient category of so called Working Class Writing and Kitchen Sink Drama that emerged in the twentieth Century English Canon. And I do admire the work of people like Sid Chaplin, Jack Common, James Kelman and William McIlvanney. However I worry that the working class works can be prone to sentimental memorialising which can serve to prevent proper insight into the rich complexities of working class family life located as it is at the margins of English society. Often it seems to me that little of this output been properly recognised as literature rather than occasionally entertaining illustrations of an alien life form.

Of course you will tell me that the books are there.  A valuable Guardian piece from 2018   lists books in which ‘working class’ heroes are  defined by  courage and fortitude and political significance. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/06/top-10-working-class-heroes-in-books  Perhaps it is of interest that all of these referred  books, except one, feature men  and subjects and male preoccupation in the fields of  war, politics, protest and urban survival. There is praise for their talents in overcoming the early disadvantage of working class environment and origins.

Fair enough! There are some honourable mainstream works here.

However in my view the key to the best of literature is the positive and intricate aspects of the story of lives lived which can create and inform heroism in all its aspects, domestic or otherwise.

So, you may say, what about you Wendy?

I suppose my own writing is speckled with the benefits of being born into what some would call this disadvantaged life. One of my earliest memories is sitting under the table in a cluttered somewhat neglected room, listening to my mother and her sisters telling and repeating stories emerging from their own lives , from their mother and father’s lives and their grandparents lives going back more than two generations. The stories had been shared, modified and developed time and time again through the decades, through the century.

 “Er… don’t you remember? That’s wrong. The truth is, she …”

Within this family details of memory have been worked over again and again like the fine stitches finishing off an elaborate piece of embroidery. And in the retelling of the stories, each story-teller would incorporate elements of her own life experience to embellish, deepen and contextualise the meaning of the story.

More recently I have been thinking that there is possibly a genetic instinctual element to my own story which  informs  my own lifelong  storytelling instinct and continues to have an impact the children and grandchildren of the seven siblings who are the leading characters in my new collection.

In my own family’s case   this custom, practice, and focus of encoding family life   into stories has proved itself in various ways facilitating a deeper understanding of the literature and various other texts that we read – a world away from the cluttered working class house. This custom somehow engendered the passing of exams, the apprehending of stories in other languages, through to the taking up of professions involving teaching, high class journalism, even the creative problem-solving in the world of scientific research. As well as this, building, making, writing, painting and other creative preoccupations have evolved into a generation which is manifestly successful in the complex modern world. I am now thinking that such progress is achieved, not despite the disadvantaged working class family origins but because of the unique nature of that family’s history grounded as it is in intricate and deeply observed family experience.

My own family heritage is significantly Celtic – part Scottish, part Welsh with a smidgen of Irish. And now I am thinking of the Celtic custom of relating ancient tribal history and politics through storytelling. I note that this cultural identity is reflected in many of my own longer novels and particularly explicitly in my novel set in post-Roman Britain called The Pathfinder. And now I can trace this instinct in all of my novels, whether they are set in Nineteenth Century County Durham, in 1938 Spain, in 1941 Singapore or in mid-20th century France.

While I work on these ideas I am beginning to realise how the significance of work is woven an individual’s experience of a particular family ethos. This is definitely the case with each of the seven Siblings in my collection. To illustrate this you might like to read the first story   in the collection. This is the story of the eldest Sibling, Bram.

 You can read it HERE. 


Bram

1922 January 22 British Troops roll over Dublin’s Cobbled streets

and take up positions on the docks and market areas

 

So. There is this man in our Front Room. Our Dee whispers in my ear that he’s this big man from the pit. He’s sitting on the horsehair sofa talking to our Mam, his flowing tweed coat unbuttoned and his white silk muffler tight around his neck.

Our Mam is sitting on the music stool in front of the harmonium on which she plays each night after we’ve gone to bed.  She practices for the Sunday services. She plays at Sunday services on Sunday mornings at our own chapel and at the Welsh chapel at Chilton at the evening service. She makes us go to the services at our own chapel but we don’t have to bother with the Welsh chapel, where the words are all jumbled up.  It’s not jumbled for Mam, of course – her being proper Welsh. Our Eirwen does go there, as she always clings to Mam and is a bit daft that way. But at least she gets to speak a bit of Welsh so that’s probably a good thing.

Anyway, here now in our Front Room is this this big man in the big coat.  We’re all here, even though we’re never normally allowed in the Front Room. Mostly we’re just in the kitchen and the scullery. The Front Room is for best.

But now, here we are - me, Eirwen and our Dee (whose Scottish name is Deoiridh), our Aderyn (whose Welsh name means bird but round here they call her Ada which means nothing). We are all sitting on the chairs lined up against the back wall, Breedlen (whose Welsh name means helper but round here they call her Bree) and our young Evan, are sitting cross-legged in front of the fire.

‘Well, Mrs Angus...’ The man’s voice sounds like a kind of whispery roar.  ‘We know your lad Bram is a good scholar. Your Jimmy’s friends tell us that.’

Mam nods, her eyes wary at the mention of our Da’s name.  She sits up straighter on the stool. ‘Our Bram passed the School Leaving Certificate when he was 12 and they let him leave school then.’  She speaks in English but her words swim up and down in that Welsh way.

The big man crosses his legs and leans back on the horsehair sofa, which creaks. ‘Like I say, a clever lad. They tell me that he’s working in that tailor shop on the High Street?’ He raises his eyebrows.

Mam nods. She's proud of our Bram. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘He’s apprenticed to the clerk there. Only got the job, look you, because he's a good scholar.

 ‘Mmm,’ He grunts. ‘No pay, like?’

‘He’ll start on a wage on Boxing Day.’ Mam’s lips close tight together. Tight.

He strokes his bristly chin. ‘That’s as mebbe, Mrs Angus.’ He pauses. The ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece is very loud. Then he coughs. ‘Your Jimmy did all right down the pit didn’t he? Got to be deb’ty when he was not much more than a lad.  That was before he volunteered, like, in fourteen.’ He pauses. Then he looks around at us one by one. I shrink back. ‘And left you with seven bairns to keep.’

Her eyes, cold as ice now, look him up and down. He glances around our Front Room with the clock on the mantelpiece and the bulky harmonium bought second-hand for her by my Granda so she would play in the services in his Welsh chapel. After my Da died in the war he sent us a bag of boots leftover his spare time job as a cobbler. All boys’ boots of course. Me, I refused to wear them, although our Dee loves hers and wears them when she goes out to play chasey and football with the lads.

Now here in the Front Room the big man coughs and nods his head. ‘Well, like, I have instructions from Mr Stevenson to talk to you about all this.’

Bree’s voice tickles my ear. ‘Mr Stevenson’s his big boss at the pit.’

The man’s thick fingers stroke his bristly chin again. ‘Well, Mrs Angus, it’s three years now, isn’t it, since we lost Jimmy and all our other lads? And we see even now that Jimmy’s a big miss to you as well as the pit.’ He pauses and examines his fingernails.’ But in these years since the war, haven’t you had this colliery house in this fine row?’   He looks again around the bright Front Room ‘And of course the coal for your fire.’  

A dark cloud settles now around us.

He coughs. ‘Well, Mrs Angus, it boils down to this. Mr Stevenson says I should explain that there’s talk of new men coming up from Cornwall to fill the gaps left in the workforce by the war. And the houses – only granted to working miners - are needed for their families.’

Mam sighs very loudly and I want to cry. Then she puts her hands together as though she’s praying and looks around the room. ‘You want us out, then?’

The big man coughs yet again. ‘Mebbe that won’t quite be necessary, Mrs Angus.’ He surveys us, one by one. ‘How old is your oldest again? The one that works at the tailor’s?’

‘Our Bram’ll be fourteen next Monday.’

‘Well then! There’s a solution to your problem. The lad’s fit enough to work in the pit isn’t he? Then he’ll be your working miner. So you can keep your house and your coal. And, being a clever lad, he won’t start at the very bottom.’ The big man stands up, re-buttons his topcoat and reties his muffler. ‘So you’ll think about this Mrs Angus?

She hauls herself to her feet and turns towards the front door. Like the Front Room, it’s rarely used. The last time it was used was when an officer in DLI uniform brought the letter from the army to say how brave our Da had been and how the King was proud of him. I was only seven then but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Now the big man shakes Mam’s hand and looks her in the eye. ‘Come Monday I’ll get Tab Smith, who worked marras with your Jimmy, to call here for your lad at half five sharp. Tab’ll take it him in-bye and make sure he gets to know the ropes from the start.’

Mam tries to pull her hand away, but he clutches it more closely. ‘It’s the only way, Mrs Angus. It’s for the best, you know it and I know it.

She slams the door behind him and stands with her back to it. Her eyes glittering and her teeth clenched.

We know that look. We begin to melt away through the middle door and make our way through the kitchen, through the scullery and down the backyard. We race out onto the Green behind the houses where Bree has a store of clay which we can make into beads and buttons to bake them on a tray in the oven.

 

At 8 o’clock my brother Bram marches down the yard in his shiny black shoes and leaps straight upstairs to hang up his white shirt his jacket in his black trousers. He comes down in bare feet wearing an old shirt and sits at the kitchen table now spread by Mam with a white cloth, on the end of which Mam has spread a white cloth. Bram sits down and bends his long gangly body over the table, his mop of black hair falling over his eyes. (The rest of them have shiny black hair like Mam’s. All except me, that is. My hair is rusty red like my Da’s. My Mam told me once not to worry about that, as the Queen of the Icenae had red hair and she was a brave woman.)

Bram grins across at Ada and me, his white teeth flashing. In front of him on the table is his meat and potato pie. It was made by Ada, who is now Mam’s right-hand-woman in the house. She gets to stay off school on Monday to help Mam with the washing, and on Wednesdays for the ironing and baking.

  Bram spears his fork into the crisp golden pastry. Mam stands watching him, her back to the roaring fire, her arms folded. The rest of us – all six of us – are scattered around the room in our nightclothes. Bree is sitting on a wooden cracket, her hands busy with her knitting needles. Deirdre is leaning on the windowsill humming a tune. Evan is leaning the fireguard at Mam’s knees. And our Eirwen is staring dreamily out of the window.

Bram grins across at Mam. ‘Real good, these taties, Ma. Has Uncle Davey been over?’  He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. At last he notices the silence in the room turns to cast his eye over each of us. Eventually he looks at Mam and smiles his sweet smile. ‘Now, Mam, I was wondering what you’re gunna give us for me birthday. Is it a secret?’

 She shakes her head, her eyes cold. ‘The pit, Bram. Your birthday present is the pit.’

 

On the Monday all of us except Dee are watching for Bram to come home from the pit. Dee is off with some lads down in the woods because her mate Bobby Vann says he’s seen them dancing down there. The rest of us hear the sneck on the back gate click and we watch as Bram comes down the yard. His brow and his chin of his face are as black as his hair. His jacket and shirt are grey with coal dust. When he sees us his white teeth gleam in his face.

We are prepared; Bree has hauled in the tin bath from the yard. Bree has filled it with hot water using the long handled ladle to dip into the boiler beside the fire. Mam has set the big clotheshorse around the bath and draped sheets over it. For Bram’s modesty, like. Evan’s job is to be at the ready to scrub his brother’s back with soap and the rough flannel. We can hear the boys laughing and talking behind the makeshift screen. Then we watch as Bram’s clean shirt and trousers vanish from the clothes-horse. And so, before our eyes, he emerges from his tent, his face shining and clean except for the glamorous black lines around his eyes.   

He sits down at the table opposite Mam, who is ladling rabbit stew onto a plate for him. She nods at him her face bland. ‘Well son’ she says, 'How was the pit then?’

 

Post Scriptum 

So there you are. Our Bram worked down the pit from when he was fourteen until he was sixty two years old. In that time he made good progress up the complicated professional pit ladder. Like our Da   Jimmy he became a Deputy at a young age. And in the following years he became a great expert on the intricacy of the seams of coal and the mines that crisscrossed the underworld of County Durham. Interestingly some of them have women’s names such as Beamish Mary, Ravensworth Betty and Emma. Others have historic names like Ladysmith. Others are named for places like Newton Cap, Princes Street Drift, Throstle Gill and Hole in the Wall.

It all remained poetry to him. The world underground the green surface of our county was his universe. All his life he was driven to talk about this world to whoever would listen.  Our Bram truly was a good scholar and his university was the pit. 

1922. February 16. Unemployment now over one million

including 348,000 ex-servicemen,


 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 7 August 2021

 Blossoming Bishop Auckland - Mark One

I gave up on Enid Blyton when I was seven and graduated in the following years of childhood to Emily E Nesbitt, J M Barrie, P L Travers, Arthur Ransome Allison Uttley, Geoffrey Trease and Rider Haggard. And of course the immaculate sisters Emily and Charlotte Bronte. My destination of choice was Spennymoor library, located then in a converted double fronted house in Clyde Terrace at the end of my house in the street of two-up and two-down houses, where I lived with my three siblings and widowed mother.

By the time I was 12 I was reading five or six books a week courtesy of this wonderful library. I would go to the library for four or five times week both to change my own books and the change books for my mother, whose taste ranged from Ethel M Dell and Barbara Cartland to Charles Dickens.

So, coming from an apparently poor home, this library proved to be the oyster from which – more than my grammar school – I could access and savour pearls of wisdom and human insight which nurtured my innate intelligence and gave me the whole world.

Off one corner of one of the well-stocked library rooms there was a long narrow space – probably formerly a larder – with a long surface from end to end with a row of seats. This was specially installed so that children from crowded houses like mine could come to do their homework and their reading in peace.

This is the library where a librarian Marion would suss out my taste and find books and save them for me.

A generation later, after in a lifetime as a teacher and writer, my go-to library was in Bishop Auckland Town Hall, in walking distance from my home which is itself now is as lined with books is that Spennymoor library. For many years Bishop Auckland Town Hall’s splendid library – plus art gallery and theatre - was managed by librarian magician called Gillian Wales who became my friend. I spent many hours there researching and writing my novels, running a writing group and giving writing workshops and guidance to aspiring writers. It was always a most welcoming, civilised and inspirational space.

But that was then, this is now! The Town Hall has been closed during the Covid pandemic and subsequently – undergone refurbishment as part of some wonderful developments in the new emergence of Bishop Auckland under the benevolent aegis of the amazing Jonathan Ruffer.  

Sadly, the whole building, behind its familiar Victorian façade, has now been modernised out of all recognition. Without the subtle leadership of Gillian Wales* the library has now been diminished into a negligible, less accessible space, among other fluidly unrecognisable spaces. I am left to wonder how many book-hungry twelve-year-old  children like me from crowded indigent households would find this in any way enabling,  engaging and inspiring as was the little Spennymoor library to me.

*My daughter reminds that the late great gardener Rosemary Verey,  is alleged to have said. ‘A garden never outlives its gardener.’ This seems so in the case of super-librarian Gillian Wales  and her Bishop Auckland Library.
 

Blossoming Bishop Auckland - Mark Two

Bu-u-t there are more optimistic signs in this wonderful town. After being locked down and virtually locked in in the last 18 months I am wondering Newgate Street – the main street of Bishop Auckland – I am having coffee with my daughter in the excellent new café The Fox’s Tale.  It is full and quite busy,  which is a nice thing to see. We sip our excellent coffee and look out of the window onto the marketplace which is at last regaining some of its former sense of busyness and occasion. A horse and buggy passes with three children aboard. 

We make our way back down the street and come upon what looks at first glance like a bookshop. It is beautifully laid out with a whole range of well-organised books standing to attention with here and there is a chair to sit on. We choose some books which definitely meet our varied tastes but discover we are not obliged to pay for them.

It turns out that this shop, run by very friendly volunteers, is called

  Get FreeBooks Bishop Auckland At 14. (Facebook Page)

 It turns out that this wonderful place is part of the global educational trust which focuses on self-help within communities. It very much involves children and families.

 Look it up at Global Education Trust



Our venture this morning certainly adds something of a balance to the sad downgrading of Bishop Auckland library in the context of upgrading lovely Bishop Auckland itself.


Inside the shop my own (now very grown-up) daughter picks up glossy books on France and French cuisine (to contribute to her research on her next book) and I pick up a novel set in Imperial Rome. And then she comes upon a novel of mine called No Rest for the Wicked, which just happens to be set in Bishop Auckland and features in the narrative the colourful Bishop Auckland Theatre. She holds it up in the air and gestures to me. I am pleased and slightly embarrassed, but delighted that someone may come and pick this up for free and take it home to enjoy reading it. 

One of the very welcoming volunteers – who is also a ceramicist - tells me that they are short of my titles in their collection. So I make a mental note to walk along to donate a few titles. It is my community after all.

Now here I am, thinking that my 12 year old self would be very happy to be walking into this shop and picking up some favourite authors to take home to my narrow street house and to read it for free.

So you can see very clearly how happy I am that my lovely Bishop Auckland is blossoming yet again.


A suggestion for you: if you are from this region please visit  number 14 Newgate Street and take away books for yourself to treasure. Or you may drop some off to share them with others. If you are not from this region check out Global Education Trust 


Find Debora Robertson at deborarobertson.com



 
 

 

 

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