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



 
 

 

 

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Dreams and Nightmares In A Long Life.

Featured in my new collectionWith Such Caution, are poems springing out of elements reflected in my notebooks over the last 50 years. What has emerged from this process of sifting and editing  is  a kind of hybrid of memoir and poetry reflecting the light and shade, the sunshine and shadows all experienced in a long life.

I have found as  the notebook entries were transmuted by the febrile abstraction  of poetry, that I started to recognise - among brighter notions and perceptions - a sprinkling of poems  involving dark dreams and even nightmares in a long life.
  
Possibly because I am a child of World War Two I have remembered dreams I had in the bed which I shared with my sister, in the house where I lived until I was seven.

 In that time, in  that bed, I distinctly remember  dreaming of invasion, in the form of  uniformed hordes coming up the stairs of that house in Lancaster,
 
 This was a dream. It didn’t literally happen!
 
But several of the poems in With Such Caution illustrate the impact of dark dreams successively on the consciousness of the little girl as she grows up to become a teacher, a feminist, a novelist and writer, a mentor, a wife, a lover, a mother -  in various combinations -  through a long life.
 
Of course this dark aspect combines with the lighter elements – light and shade juxtaposed -- and has contributed to perhaps a more abstract notion of a lived life, which makes With Such Caution much more than a straight memoir.


An Example:-

The poem here below - perhaps the darkest in the collection – finally written in 2002 – reflects some of the darkest aspects of the dreaming and the feelings that still haunt me.

 

Tin Drum Beat

 

Lady of shadow, where do you walk?

Come into the light

let me see you more clearly,

 

Grasping existence with your metal fingers

Sitting there hearthside to knit up the world

your face set hard to  the distance of  time,.

Your green-coin head turns this way and that,

viewing the treeless spread of the city..

 

Still you stay there at the edge of the dark

walking the streets with your diamond tread

beating the drum  with your  tough metal fingers -

choosing the child for the next conflagration

 

Lady of shadow, where are you walking?

Come into the light

Let me see you more clearly

 

You turn into an alley, darker than Hades,

and confront a boy whose eyes cannot see.

Your gaze pierces through the husk of his eyelid

igniting his soul to the darkness ahead,

 

Lady of shadows

Come into the light

Let me see you more clearly

 

I’m running before you, afraid of your gaze

afraid of your hands with their tin-drum-beat

afraid of your eyes, those glittering  emeralds,

afraid of the high-heeled click of your feet

 

Lady of shadows why do you follow?

I turn in the dark to meet your embrace.

Nov 29.02

 

Fragments of this poem are in several of the

notebooks. Perhaps this piece shows how

close are one’s dreams and nightmares

in a world where the imagination rules.

 

 



 Wendy Robertson

Buy Here at Amazon   http://tiny.cc/82autz 

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Thursday, 4 March 2021

With Such Caution - A Life Glimpsed in Short Pieces

‘I think With Such Caution is alive, raw in its emotional reach, finely polished in its language, and has a universal relevance.’ A.J.

The bright spot in my lockdown year – drenched as it was with the caring, health preoccupations, peripheral boredom and occasional panic - found real value for me in the form of my self-elected task of collecting short pieces sometimes called poems from 50 years of my working notebooks.

Cheered on by my friend the fine poet and novelist Avril Joy and literary scholar Donna Maynard - who is fascinated by the notion of archive -  this very special collection has finally blossomed during this year of confinement.


My hundred or so notebooks have served through the decades as my best friends, my confidantes, my research assistants and my counsellors. In this way this Lockdown Year has given me the space to survey my notebooks, harvesting short pieces which – I discovered – had captured a range of universal truths about my life as though they were  butterflies in a net.  So I have spent this fallow time exploring these harvested pieces and moulding, editing and refining them to the point where they have revealed true elements of my whole - pretty long - life.


So these poems are pure glimpses of a long life - some glimpses recalled again 30 or 40 years later; most of them written on the cusp of the events that inspired them, to be revisited during this fallow year and re-interpreted as I reflected on them  afresh.


I think your voice is one of the collection's great strengths, I hear it speak clearly and candidly throughout and, among other things, it sounds frank, intelligent, intellectually curious, honest, questioning, hurt, warm, amused, reflective, probing and combative. It is a great idea also to include footnotes which add another aspect or layer of voice as if you are speaking directly to the reader.’ DM.


And now I have moved on to the complex process of publishing this collection - a very different process from from the more familiar tasks of writing and editing my own work.  Here was a very different category of decision-making. Readers of this blog wilI know that I have embraced this new publishing process several times before but it is never easy. It is so much more challenging, in my view, than actually writing my long novels (see list on the right) which were published by mainstream publishers.


‘I am wholly convinced of the value of short pieces/ poetry as memoir. It is every bit as much, as authentic and true, as any prose account and there are ways in which it gets beneath the skin of a life to the deep self - in a way - to the soul. AJ.)


One important decision was the title: after much head-wrangling I decided it would be With Such Caution - borrowing the title from one of the pieces in the collection:  


         In her early life, timid and shy,
         she pre-empted risks by keeping
         her horizons low and her head
         bent down over her books.


,
With Such Caution is a perfect title choice. As a title poem it gets to the heart of the shy, timid, girl that haunts you still. She is alive in these pages, Wendy, we feel her caution, her apprehensions and fears’ AJ.

Then there was the decision about the cover – very important, as I know, to engage  potential readers.

 My collaborator in this part of the  process was the talented designer Kate Hall  of Kate Hall Design, who worked her special magic on my concept of the book and developed exactly my dream cover. This image  too - like the title - begins with a little shy girl who would always be a writer. Take a look. 


If you get hold of the book you will realise that this is not a conventional memoir. You will notice that the poems are not set out in here in autobiographical time. Rather they are inspired by my feelings about the pieces in the present time, as I have edited them and put them in order for this special collection. Perhaps you could say  the ordering constitutes a glimpse of my state of mind in the present day while I have been working on this collection.


 ‘I like so much that you haven’t chosen a linear path - I think when we reflect on our lives we do so in myriad images and scattered memories. I suppose I’m saying that your chosen form mimics the process of remembering…’  AJ.

Inevitably members of my family have roles to play in this collection, albeit seen  through the veil of my selective memory and my  idiosyncratic emotional perceptions. I have already posted on this  blog one of the poems featuring my mother, Barbara. (Scroll down...And now the poem at the end is this pieces focuses on Billy, my father. I thought you might like it as is just one illustration much of what I have tried to say here. 

'... there is a creative unity which is an important part of your authentic writer’s voice, aligned as it is with your refusal to be confined or limited by genre or received wisdom - something of course which is underscored in the collection in poems such as Outsiderness, With Such Caution’and ‘Different Worlds.' DM. 

 I very much hope you  enjoy reading With Such Caution and perhaps reflect  on your own lives, And I hope the writers among you will be inspired to survey their own notebooks for similar inspiration.  


I am pleased to day that With Such Caution is available now in paperback and ln  Kindle on Amazon  HERE


WX


Billy: A Daughter’s Tale

 We walked along, your giant’s hand in mine, 

 long fingers poking inside my hand-knitted sleeve.

Remember the nights she left the house for work?

You sat and read the paper as I scaled your knee

settling, birdlike, into that rustling space.

 

Remember how we cut out pictures

and pasted them into the Panjandrum book?

Remember how you read us stories -

your voice going up and down

like the waves of the sea?

 

So very sorry you don’t know my youngest –

like you he’s  highly numerate - you

did not see him standing tall for Tai Kwan Do 

(white clad and obliquely oriental)

or cricket-ready, complete with pads

and helmet and faceguard protection.

 

It’s a lifetime since I passed your dying age

of thirty seven. And now I contemplate

how very young you were  when

you abandoned your life and mine,

when - to my nine-year self - you seemed eternal.

 

It has taken two generations

between then and now  for me

to ventilate  the retrospective pain

of losing you too soon.


                 Note :  My father died when I was nine and I see now  that our relationship was the template                                                                         for my whole life.

Friday, 1 January 2021

 

Translucent Butter-Muslin.

It was my mother’s birthday yesterday. The last day of the year. Perhaps that’s why even as a child I always liked the New Year celebrations much better than those at Christmas. My eventual explanation for this was that this was the influence of the Celtic elements in my identity.

Another explanation could be that there were bad days in my childhood but even in the worst of days New Year’s Eve seem to carry the silver lode of  celebration.

And now I have shrugged off the bad days of my childhood and we are here into 2021. Despite a universally tragic 2020, New Year’s Day in 2021 seems to me to be a good day to press on with my own Work in Progress. My mother would say 'stop fretting – keep working!'

I am just now working my critical way through a selection of poems which – with the help of my friend Donna  Maynard – I have harvested from my notebooks going back 50 years. Originally I never labour labelled these short line pieces as poems. It always seemed too pretentious by far. It comes from a habit of noting down in words how I see things what is happening – like bullets of experience in short lines.

In retrospect it so happened that through the years this collection of short line pieces took a form that other people – with more literary, poetic nous than me – have viewed them as “poems. The collection will be called With Such Caution - A Life Glimpsed in Short Lines.

In this recently assembled collection there are more than 60 of  pieces going back to 1962. And during the confinement of Lockdown I have been working my way through them – polishing here, clarifying there. This has been something of a voyage of discovery.

 I have discovered that the short-line pieces range across all aspects of my life – both imagined and – in the world sense – real. They include inner thoughts and fantasies, and outer experiences. On reflection I suppose many might be seen as autobiographical, but, like a good deal of any writer’s output, much of it just might be entirely invented. 

My mother – always called “Mam” – crops up with a certain compelling frequency in this sollection.=. My brothers and sisters are there – some would say projections and retrospections perhaps growing from my storytellers mind. “Mam” crops up several times as I certainly sense that I can remember her right back to the day I was born. And then, even after she died too early, the writing here shows how much she featured in my life, in my dreams.

I realise now that I spent my childhood very hungry for her approval.  I was still hungry when, as a grown up, working and with children of my own, I gave her my first published novel Lizza to read in publisher’s proof.  She told me she sat through the night reading it to the very end. i was relieved when she approved and informed me that I’d got most things – the novel was set during the 1926 strike – right!  Thank you Mam!

 My poem  here below Translucent Butter-Muslin reflects on a dream I had of her many years – and 16 books – later.  Sadly, I lost Mam before she had a chance to read all the other novels which succeeded  Lizza.

 My mother – her name was Barbara -  was always a great reader and I can feel at her at my shoulder now as I wish all the beloved readers and writers out there are very creative and satisfying year in 2021.


Here for you is a poem:


 Translucent Butter-Muslin  


I wake up trembling - time ringing, vibrating,

calling the angelus. In my dream

I see you standing there, all in yellow,

arms raised - backlit in translucent butter muslin –

a vision pulsing before me  

manufactured by  stars twinkling  

in the sky at night,

Now I see you standing smiling.(My father

stoops over you, his arm slung 

around your shoulder). And I see you

standing at my school-gate wearing

in a fluffy white coat, red hair blazing.

Then I see you in a blue crêpe party dress

toggled at the neck in amber.

I see you smiling at my brother’s wedding,

wearing a blue hat, its brim upturned.

Best of all - I see you standing up straight

- blue uniformed and silver-buckle-belted.

But here and now I see you standing here

at the top of my stairs  in translucent  butter-muslin –

arms raised towards me.


Me thinking a lot on her knee.


 

 

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