Friday 29 October 2010

Balloons and Birds

One pleasure recently - having gained some time as The Romancer is now proofed and ready for its print run - has been reading original materiel in the excellent reference library of the Bowes Museum.

I have been reading letters written to Josephine, the French wife of John Bowes. She was in safety in England but very popular with her her friends in France who continued to write to her as they experienced the worst of the Franco Prussian war and the siege of Paris.

The gossipy, urgent tone of these letters of the French demi-monde is redolent of its time in late 1860s France. Preoccupation with siege and safety mixes with social niceties and conventions being flouted. Thanks to Josephine for the use of her box at the opera sit there alongside concerns for the loss of a box of game, (shot in England by John) sent by Josephine as a gift to help the ousted soldiers and the poor in Calais.

What caught my eye yesterday was a reference in a letter (1870) to aeronauts who has landed in a balloon which had floated over the hated besieging Prussians and landed near Calais. The letter tells of aeronauts emerging with four pigeons. There were four birds because apparently the dastardly Prussians had birds of prey trained to attack and kill these winged messengers. So they attached the message to four birds hoping one would get through…

It occurred to me that these birds of prey were an innocent metaphor for the ultimately brutal occupying Prussians.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Podcast now here: Biographer and Poet Kathleen Jones


The October Bishop FM podcast now available!


If you remember  Avril and I talked with Kathleen Jones in her mill home just over the border in Cumbria. You can hear the clatter of knives and forks as we talked over lunch. Kathleen talked about her early commitments as a writer, her vivid experience as a mature student, her views on her own and others’ poetry. These will all feature in later programmes. This programme, however, we will focus on her unique views on the art and craft of storyteller Catherine Cookson a very popular and –as will emerge – a much underrated writer whose worldly success is sometimes mistakenly seen as a sign of her lack of artistic virtue.

We will also hear our own reviewer Chartered Librarian Gillian Wales who runs Room To Write with Avril and me - as she talks about the impact of the work of Catherine Cookson on the book borrowing public in the 1980s and 90s – and also reflects on the best of Cookson’s novels.

And listen to Avril Joy’s story of publishing her father’s account of his experiences of London during the war, and hear an extract from Sedgefield writer Norma Niel’s touching novel, rooted in her own family memoir.


Tuesday 12 October 2010

Vikings and Ghosts

In an attempt to relax after finishing The Romancer I watched a fascinating Time Team special on television, (typical pedant relaxation…) on the fact and the myth of Vikings in Britain and the world.
It seemed these Vikings were everywhere, as Tony Robinson eventually said, a bit like the Americans - over armed, over-sexed and over here. And here. And here.
I learned that part of their great success both in invading and carving out trading and farming space for themselves is that they had metal technology that was centuries ahead of their time, Their swords were very superior slicers, and secured their dominance, just as the repeating rifle secured the dominance of settlers over indigenous Native Americans in America. And the Atom Bomb ended the Second World War.
One way we know of this proliferation of the Vikings is the ubiquitous presence of their words in the language called English and of place names which reach deep into the British countryside.
Viking settlements are marked for example with place names ending in –by which means homestead, or farm. Think of Whitby, Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Selby, Grimsby. They are also marked by place names ending in –thorpe (or -thorp, -throp or –trop) which also means farm. And toft which means the site site of a house or a plot of land. And then there is holm which means a dry place in an area of marsh.
Names like this proliferate even deep inland in my part of the country. Only a mile or so away, for instance, is a village called Toft Hill.
Then, sitting back with my cup of tea, I had this thought that the genetic Viking heritage of many modern people could show itself now in the revels of the hard men (and women) round here on a Saturday night; in their desire not just to drink but get plastered (arguably a sign of manhood in the old Viking culture); also in their historic bravery in twentieth century wars and their stoicism in enduring hard conditions at work.
Then I had this idea that I could write a novel that illuminated these parallels between a bunch of Vikings then and a bunch if these guys now. Maybe a kind of ghost story.
Or not.
Maybe I should sleep on it.

Monday 11 October 2010

Spinning Plates

Just emerging from the fog of final editing of The Romancer, where I’ve had to retain in my brain the whole of the book that I’ve written in such loving parts. It’s like those people in the circus who have to keep plates spinning on sticks and dash across and across to keep them spinning. Deb's flowers

At times the brain has ached and the simple joy of blogging has had to be put to one side. But I have missed it. Ironically it was carving out the artless pieces about writing and my life on my Life Twice Tasted blog that inspired me to write The Romancer. No Life Twice Tasted  -  no Romancer.

Twice I thought I had finished the book and twice I dived back to insert another section so the balance was right and that plate kept spinning.

But now it’s gone and out of my hands and out of my mind for a while. Endings are about new resolutions. I have awarded myself a bunch of flowers and - apart from sorting out the sock drawer and the jumper drawer - I intend to write a short blog every day for a while, to get back into the rhythm.

So, if you’re still there, thank you for caring. See you tomorrow,



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