October 3rd…

The edge lands of Stoke.

Tim Diggles

Autumn’s setting in. Today’s walk with Oskar to the edgelands was breezy and cool, the sun was lower and the shadows longer. The grasses and leaves are starting to turn, the pond is a lot fuller after the rain. In the ‘panoramic’ photo of the trees on the ‘ridge’, on the far left, you can just make out Mow Cop in the distance, which has a folly built on the top to make a more interesting view and a summer house in the 18th Century.

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Live Age Festival: 2017

It hardly seems a year since the last Live Age Festival in Stoke-on Trent. For those who don’t know this is partly a celebration and partly a debate about the contribution older people can make to the arts and why and how participation can enhance health and well being.

Live Age 17 B

Jill working with us on our presentation


It’s also great fun. This year Ages and Stages, the group I belong to, did a performance on the stage of the New Vic theatre. Our piece was linked to Stoke’s bid to be City of Culture 2021 and we began rehearsals on Monday ready for performance on Friday. When I say rehearsals, I mean we began, under the direction of Jill Rezzano, to devise our piece.

Company worked on ideas, there was much heated discussion during the process, then Jill took away what we had said and came back with a script.

Looking back, this part of the process was what I enjoyed most. Way back in my childhood, I’d had visions of myself as an actress, and there was a certain frisson at being on the stage of a world renowned theatre, however the thrill of the spotlights did not compare with the buzz of working with other people to create a piece of drama.

I loved the way in which we took up each other’s ideas and worked on and modified them until no one could tell who had suggested what. As the rehearsals went on, we also became braver and making comments both about the work and the way we were delivering it.

It was a great way to spend a week and I am looking forward to our next project.

Friday Favourites: The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston

The Children of Green Knowe

Feedback, at Renegade Writers, on my new novella, prompted a discussion on time travel and the appropriate tropes. Creepy music not being an option in print, though possible in an audio book, how to show that a character has slipped back, or indeed forward, into another time?  The conversation, as always, was both knowledgeable and heated and I found myself citing some of my favourite time travel books.

The first, “The Children of Green Knowe” by Lucy M. Boston was one of the most influential books of my childhood. It tells the story of Tolly, who comes to stay with his Grandmother for the Christmas holidays.

Her house, Green Knowe is a magical place. The night Tolly arrives it is surrounded by floodwater and Boggis, the faithful family retainer, ferries him across by boat. Tolly, the last in a long line of Oldknows, who have lived in the house since time immemorial, is given the children’s nursery at the top of the house and it is soon very clear that he is not the only child still there.

The way that Toby, Alexander and Linnet appear and disappear, the expectation that they will be there and the disappointment when they are not is skilfully done. Like Tolly, the reader is never sure what they will see and when. Sometimes, there is only a patter of footsteps, a few bars of music, or quick glimpse of a mother singing to her baby in the Great Hall. On other occasions, like midnight Mass in the local church Tolly is back in the seventeenth century, when Linnet dresses up in boy’s clothes to be able to sing in the choir.

The fact that the three children lived in a different time and died in the Great Plague is neither glossed over, nor dwelt on. Linnet simply mentions their death, as if, after all this time, it is no longer important.

Part of the pleasure of this book is the vivid descriptions of the house and the objects in it. The carved mouse in nursery, the key to the box that the chaffinch pulls out from between the floorboards, where it has lain hidden for centuries. The lumps of sugar that Tolly leaves in the empty stable disappear and is sure that they have been eaten by Feste, the ghost horse. His grandmother, however, suggests that Boggis has put them in his mug of tea.

She is the mainstay of the story, part of the fabric of the house and its history, yet also Tolly’s present and, one suspects, his future. She is full of common sense, but has the ability to see the others who have lived in the house before her.

Time, love and loss, are themes in the book. Toby, Alexander, Linnet and their mother died while Captain Oldknow was away. Tolly’s parents are abroad. The grandmother is alone. But in spite of this the book is a joyful celebration of both change and stability.

Tolly will grow up, the grandmother will die, but a sense of them will remain within the walls of Green Knowe.

I loved this book as child and still do as an adult. If you do get a copy, then make sure it is one that contains the original illustrations by Peter Boston, the author’s son, whose woodcuts add so much to the text.Peter Boston Image



Friday Favourites: The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

From the intriguing title to the final, inevitable end, I was totally enthralled by this novel.

Set in China, before the outbreak of World War Two, “The Dancing Girl and the Turtle” tells the story of Anyi Song, who on her way to live with relatives in Shanghai, is involved in a horrific incident that will colour the rest of her life.

Although she is loved and cared for by her cousin Cho, she cannot settle in this vibrant and complex city and must carve her own way through the web of family obligation, guilt and her need to be her own woman.

Karen Kao brilliantly conveys the atmosphere of a decadent, yet enticing metropolis. Her characters are vividly drawn and the unusual structure, where Anyi and her cousin Cho speak in the first person, while all the other characters are written in the third person intensifies the reader’s involvement with the protagonist at the same time allowing for multiple points of view, which add richness to the novel.

The language is lyrical and although there is much violence and suffering there are also images of great beauty, such as Cho’s description of his cousin, which has the spareness of an Oriental print.

“Her eyebrows are delicate birds in flight and beneath them lie her dark lashes and their shadows. Her skin could be porcelain but for the two spots of red high on her cheeks.”

“The Dancing Girl and the Turtle” is both a beautiful and a tragic book and I cannot thank Karen Kao enough for giving me the opportunity to read and review it.

How Many Pairs of Boots Does One Woman Need?

Now that is a very good question. As far as this woman is concerned I have, currently, about eighteen pairs in my wardrobe.

This may sound rather a lot, but my boots go back a long way. The oldest pair I have dates from the early seventies. Maroon lace-up Victorian style, they came from the theatrical shoe makers Aniello and Davide and although designed to wear on stage I’ve worn them in the same way, I’ve worn my other boots. They’ve lasted better than other pairs and for much longer than their sister pair in black.

They were the pair I wore when pregnant with my second child, I went to visit my sister in hospital after she had had a narrow escape from a house fire. Aunk and the maroon boots, and indeed David, are inextricably linked and it would be almost impossible to get rid of them.

Green Boots.JPG

The same is true of the green Italian boots which I bought with my first royalty cheque. I was teaching drama at the time and since it was almost impossible to find suitable plays for schools that involved a large cast, I wrote my own. Carel Press, an educational publisher, was looking for material and, taking a deep breath, because I’d never submitted before, I sent off “The Last Disco”. They took it and subsequently published “The Kidnapping of Cloud Nine” which I wrote with Posy Miller. For years we got royalties and performing rites from both plays, but my very first payment was celebrated by buying the green boots. Made from the softest leather with velvet trimmings they are blissfully comfortable.

Red Docs.JPG

My red Doc Martens were a present from my kids, my multi-coloured boots were bought for me by my husband. Then there are the brown boots with the buckles that one of my pupils gave me, because I’ve got size 3 feet and so had her twin and her twin didn’t like her new boots, so would Miss like them?Brown Boots

And so it goes on. Every pair I own has a story. Even the wellingtons with their tops chewed by one of our Water Spaniel puppies.

Do I need them all? Probably not, though some are useful, some merely beautiful, like the purple ones with ribbons, some both, like my rainbow boots, I wouldn’t part with any of them.

And if this all makes me sound just a little obsessed with boots, then I would have to confess that I am.

Friday Favourites :The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath

The Unexpected Miss BennettPatrice Sarath is not a writer I had heard of, but picking up the hardback copy of “The Unexpected Miss Bennet” in a library sale, I loved her take on what happened to Mary Bennet, the plain and somewhat overbearing sister of the lovely Jane and entrancing Lizzie in “Pride and Prejudice.”

It’s not often that a sequel to that classic works. I can think of a few horrors that I won’t mention. This novel however, succeeds on so many levels.

The characters are true to the original and Mary’s development from the sort of girl you would take pains to avoid, to someone who shows empathy and understanding ,not only for others, but of her herself and her rather unfortunate mannerisms is truly convincing.

The language too mirrors the book and conveys a sense of period. My only criticism being that the journeys between the various houses seem to be rather shorter than I remember in Jane Austen’s novel.

“The Unexpected Miss Bennet” that I thought to read, then pass on, will remain on my bookshelf as an unexpectedly delightful read.

To tempt you further, here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

“…few expect the third Bennet daughter to attract a respectable man. But although she is shy and would much prefer to keep her nose stuck in a book, Mary is uncertain she wants to meekly follow the path to spinsterhood set before her.

Determined that Mary should have a chance at happiness, the elder Bennet sisters concoct a plan. Lizzy invites Mary to visit at Pemberley, hoping to give her sister a place to grow and make new acquaintances. But it is only when Mary strikes out independently that she can attempt to become accomplished in her own right. And in a family renowned for its remarkable Misses, Mary Bennet may turn out to be the most wholly unexpected of them all…”


Friday Favourites: Belshazzar’s Daughter

Fridays are book days. I’m going to blog about books I’ve enjoyed reading recently, plus books that are long term favourites.

Today’s book is by an author I’ve not read before. Barbara Nadel was recommended by both my sister-in-law and a friend. They both said that once they started reading her books they couldn’t stop.

Intrigued, I borrowed the first in her Inspector Ikmen  series, “Belshazzar’s Daughter” and I was hooked. The novel works on so many levels. It’s a good mystery with tension and suspense. The characters and their motivation are convincing, the atmosphere of Istanbul is vividly conveyed and Inspector Ikmen is a gem.

No angst, just a family man who loves his wife and family, who struggles to balance an all demanding job with his duty to his elderly father, his wife, Fatma and their nine children.

Another thread running through the book is the history of Istanbul and the many different nationalities who have made it their home.

All in all a great read.

Belshazzar's Daughter