Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The question is...

One of the perks of parenting is the questions. They're incessant, sometimes tiring ('You can pluck a tiger bald' Ted Hughes told his interlocutor daughter!) but often very, very funny.

'Daddy, you know a baby's made when a daddy's seed is mixed with a mummy's egg? Well, how does it get there?'

'Daddy, you know how we're all standing up but the world's round? Well, how do we know which way up we are?'

'Daddy, am I an iguana?'

'Daddy, when you an mummy got married, where was I?'

'Daddy, when you were little were you an evacuee?'

And so on...

I'm used to it. (Three kids, you just are!)

But this morning I got asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. As usual, it was just as we were about to leave the house. Shoes had been hastily fastened, bags packed, coats pulled on and we were about to step outside when...

'Daddy?' [Embarrassed smile!] 'Am I fat?'

My mind went blank for a moment. I know how important it is to respond appropriately, to take each question seriously, not to mock, not to dismiss, not to dissemble. But what could I say?

I also know - and hope to have practised - the importance of not commenting negatively or otherwise on the variety of shapes and sizes people come in. That's just the way the world is, I tell them. People are different. And your shape is just right for you.

But she's not fat, my seven-year-old daughter. Far from it. And she's not (as far as I'm aware) at all worried by it, or by anything else to do with her size or shape or hair or eye colour.

She wants to be a fairy. Or sometimes a puffin. And maybe a mermaid. But that's as far as her generalised dissatisfaction with being human goes. It does not (or has not) as far as I'm aware extended to even a fleeting desire to be any other (human) shape.

She eats well. We have a generally healthy diet. We eat meals together. Food isn't an 'issue'.

So, where does such a question (such a direct question) come from?

And how the hell do you answer it?

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Authors Unbound

Further to my post a couple of weeks ago about the lacklustre response of my local Waterstones to the imminent publication of my latest book, let me big them up. Actually, let me big up both them and the indomitable Eamonn Griffin who organised a day-long event at Waterstones, Nottingham, at which, well... read for yourself!


My lot was to be on what turned out to be the smallest panel of the day. (One of the authors didn't turn up!) But what we lacked numerically we made up for in verbosity. Oh yes.


Even with a sore throat I can talk...


And the job of moderating the panel (panel? More like three friends - and after yesterday, in spite of never having met them before, I certainly think of Paul Holbrook and Max Hawker as friends - chatting at the bar) was made easy by virtue of my fellow authors having such interesting things to say. Which, in turn, comes from having written such interesting books.


But then, that went for the day as a whole.

Here are a few more pics for those of you who couldn't make it (and you missed a treat).

The 'new voices' panel (Lulu Allison, Stephanie Bretherton and Eamonn Griffin) was chaired by the brilliant Virginia Moffatt pictured here reading from her novel Echo Hall).


Panel 2, entitled 'genre writing' was without doubt the largest, numerically. Here's Amy Lord discussing her novel 'The Disappeared'. (Fellow panelists include Eli Allison, Alys Earl, Miles Hudson and Joshua Winning.)


The non-fiction panel covered such topics as street photogaphy (Stephen Leslie) and photo biography (John-Michael O'Sullivan), death festivals (Erica Buist) and plein air swimming as expounded here by the indefatigable Emma Pusill, author of the Lido Guide. She's obviously been there... And got the t-shirt!


And - last but by no means least - here's Colgers himself (Stevyn Colgan) holding forth on the comedy panel, which also featured Sue Clark, PJ Whiteley, Patrick Kinkaid and Robert Woodshaw.


So, there you have it. If you didn't make it, you can always click the links (above) and find out more about the work of this talented and diverse bunch for yourself.

You won't be disappointed!



Thursday, 4 October 2018

Room with a View

Sea Room: An Island Life in the HebridesSea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Nicolson is a man after my own heart, a man with an interest in almost everything. This tour de force not only covers geology, ecology, biology, history, theology, social policy and a whole lot more, but does it with an immediacy and skill that feels like the slap of a big, wet Minch wave on the side of a boat and the cold spray of the sea on your face. No romantic 'I-land'-ism, the book portrays the harsh realities of life as it must've been lived for pretty much everybody (at least, the majority) from the Bronze Age onwards: nasty, brutish, and short. But at the same time capable of transcending the awful everyday realities and gaining a deeper appreciation of the land and life passed on through generations in folk lore and poetry. So, why just four stars? Well, if I had one criticism (I do, and this is it) it's that the book struggles just a little on the last leg of the voyage, as if the tide turns against it and landing on the islands is suddenly very tricky. But we get there. We haul the boat ashore and get to the house with its rats and its sea room. And all it well. We hope.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Indie Hop

I popped in to my local Waterstones the other day, asked to speak to the manager, told her my book was already available to pre-order on their website and asking if she'd be likely to stock it.

'There'll be a reasonable amount of local interest,' I said to her. (There's a two-week Remembrance Festival in the town beginning on October 28th and I'm already booked to do several events.)

'We don't have the power to order,' was her first line of defence. I can understand that. For all I know she has local authors assailing her all the time, asking her to sell their books. But...

The local branch does clearly have some autonomy. I can't see how 'Ruskington As I Remember It' or 'Wodds and Doggerybaw: A Lincolnshire Dialect Dictionary' could come from Waterstones Central. But who knows?

In the end, she agreed to order one copy (1!) to, and I quote, 'test the market'.

Well, she's got a business to run I suppose. But...

It's a lot more lucrative (her business) than either writing or publishing! And as for testing the market, how about creating one? They do that all the time with their special offers. Or do the publishers still pay them £000's to have their books on display near the door?

The deal is certainly still 'sale-or-return' so... apart from a bit of shelf-space, she's got nothing to lose!

Mind you, it is a fairly big book...


Anyway, inspired by my success I got in touch with a local bookshop (of some renown). There isn't one in my home town but this one isn't far away. And it's very good.

And they're very quick. Three minutes (3!) after emailing them the details they got back to me and said 'it's on order'.

And people wonder why we're all so crazy about indie bookstores!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

We're jamming!

Ok, so. One more time.

If you follow me on twitter, read this blog (and have done regularly) or know me personally, well... you can't help but know (and probably tire) of my opinion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Honestly! His name, his silly hat and funny costume, his unerring habit of putting his foot in it seem to make him a natural stand-in for Mr 'Justin' Tumble, in my opinion.

This week he as good as said you can't be a religious leader without being political. I've nothing whatever against that. The problem, as Peter Cook once memorably had it, is that neither has he.

Not that long ago he was writing (or authorising to go out above his name) this:


Then earlier this year he was saying this:

Jesus was highly political. He told the rich that, unlike the poor who were blessed, they would face woes. He criticised the King as a fox. He spoke harsh words to leaders of the nations when they were uncaring of the needy.

And now he's well-and-truly in the political mire with a speech to the TUC and a damning indictment of Amazon's (among others) tax status.

For what it's worth I don't think you can be a proper religious leader without ruffling a few political feathers. Not if you're doing your job properly.

I'm just asking for a little more consistency.


In other news...

Let there be music. Lots and lots of loud music. We're a musical family (my sister - I think, affectionally - calls us the Von Trapps) but I fear even we may have strayed too far into noisy territory with the addition of the latest instrument to the musical menagerie.

On Friday, my daughter returned home with a trumpet. That adds to my son's trombone. And to mark the occasion they jammed together, very loudly and for quite a long time.


It was the excitement, I suppose. The newness of it all. Enthusiasm. Theirs, I mean. Because although I'm all for it (the general educational benefits of music are beyond doubt)...

I need a pair of ear-plugs.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Back to School

Well, we survived! The first week back has been and gone and that awful transition from summer holidays to schooldays is a memory.

I always used to dream, as a teacher, of writing books in the six weeks holidays. It never happened. I also used to have the ubiquitous anxiety dreams about the classroom before the new term, dreams in which bells ring but you don't know where you are, classes you aren't prepared for appear and - worst of all - kids suddenly stop listening to a word you're saying.

Now I'm a writer I seem to have started having anxiety dreams about books. To whit, my next book, The Glorious Dead, which is out in just under two months time.

In last night's version publication day had come and gone but the book was missing. I went looking for it - at the printer's, the publisher's, I'm not quite sure where - and it eventually emerged but with a different cover and in a dreadful state.

I'm not a Freudian. The manifest content of the dream is obvious and I don't think there's any more to say than that. It's the season, the back-to-school season, for anxiety dreams and I'm having them.

Only now, they're about books. I suppose you could argue that it's somehow symbolic of something but - like the classroom dreams I used to have - they seem fairly easy to explain without recourse to repressed instincts or memories or forbidden desires.

One key element in Freud's dream theory is the concept of wish-fulfillment. But I certainly don't (secretly or not) want publication day to go anything other than smoothly, so how do you explain that?

I'm not sure he (Freud) can. He tries by claiming the latent content (missing, damaged books) is symbolic of something - something morally questionable, to say the least.

So my anxiety dream of books might be a sign of my repressed desire to... what? Answers on a postcard, please!

In other news I've recently finished reading an excellent book on the Iliad. Having taught the poem to an A level group last year (and written a brief study-guide to it) I've become more and more obsessed with it and constantly amazed by its relevance. The treatment of the war dead chimes well with my latest book, of course. And in  Achilles in Vietnam by U.S. psychiatrist Jonathan Shay uses Homer as a starting point to examine combat trauma.

It's a fascinating read, combining two of my current all-consuming interests: psychology and epic poetry and is highly recommended for anyone (if there is anyone?) out there with similar interests.


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