Surprises come in threes at Oadby Library!

09 +00002014-03-30T20:16:31+00:0031 2012 § 6 Comments

Oadby Library event

During the latter part of last Thursday afternoon, after a sun-splashed if chilly week, the heavens opened and the rain came bouncing down. The gate that leads into our garden was sodden in no time. The M1, which we had just joined to begin our journey to the event at Oadby Library, quickly became waterlogged: there were treacherous sheets of water to negotiate as the traffic on the approaches to the various cities that we passed built up towards rush hour. By the time that we reached the Leicester ring-road, we’d encountered virtual gridlock. Irate drivers were crawling along for a few yards at five mph before juddering once again to a standstill, their progress and tempers not helped by the rain, Leicester’s amazingly laid-back traffic lights system and the fact that in several places on the dual carriageway two lanes merge into one (every driver being reluctant to yield to another).

This was not an auspicious start to an event that had been planned months in advance and strenuously published, by Chris and Jen at Salt Publishing, by myself and by various other kind tweeters along the way. I had known not to expect too much, as the library had already warned me that only three tickets had been sold – and indeed would have ‘pulled’ the event had I not insisted that I should be happy to speak even if only one person turned up to hear me.

I arrived precisely on time, at 6.30 p.m., later than intended, and my audience – consisting indeed of just three people – had all got there before me. I barely had time to notice that Oadby has a lovely library before I hastened into the ante-room where they had assembled, together with the librarian, Anne Sharpe. However, by this time I had already experienced the first of several wonderful surprises. The first person that I met after Anne was Rosalind Adam. We are mutual bloggers and Twitter friends – I’ve been enjoying Rosalind’s blog for some time, though we had not met before. It was a delight to be able to talk to Rosalind in the flesh. We each agreed that the other was exactly what we had expected – and that this was not always the case when meeting someone previously encountered only through the ether. At the moment, I’m particularly excited about a book for children on Richard III that Ros has just finished writing and hope to be able to review it on this blog in due course.

I was a bit slow on the uptake at registering the second surprise. I’ll have to excuse myself by offering the explanation that I was busy sorting out my books and papers for the readings. I’m also quite short-sighted, but I prefer to wear my spectacles only when I’m driving. Anyway, the event was about to start when I looked up and recognised that the only male member of the audience was Colin Marshall, for many years the manager of the campus bookshop at Leicester University and still employed by the university today, although he has now ascended to a higher plane and is in charge of all the retail operations on the campus there. Colin’s presence introduced one of those occasions when my life as a novelist collides with the day job – and this time it was the most enjoyable collision imaginable. Colin has for several decades attended the conference for which I have organised for some fourteen years the speaker programme. He was also awarded the Booksellers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. His presence at the event was not entirely a coincidence, as he had been kindly told about it by Professor Christine Fyfe, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor in charge of Teaching and Learning – and the Library – at Leicester University, whom we both know. However, there was also a real coincidence at work: Colin and his wife Sandra live in Oadby and she had quite separately seen the event advertised by the library and decided that she would like to attend. Having the opportunity to meet Sandra was the third lovely surprise of the evening: she’s funny, sensitive, extremely well-read, loves dogs and cats (she told me that she and Colin have managed to organise their lives with such symmetry that they have four children, three dogs and two cats), is a great companion and raconteur and furthermore is living proof that Colin is a dark horse!

Ros, Colin, Sandra and Anne therefore constituted my audience at Oadby. It was the smallest audience I’ve ever had. I’ve attended other writers’ events that have managed to attract only small audiences and I’ve found that they divide into two categories: small and dismal, and small and select. I’d like to state unequivocally that, thanks to Ros, Colin, Sandra and Anne, this event was of the latter type. It began quite formally with a reading from In the Family and a Q & A session, but before long had turned into a lively debate about writing, literature, other crime writers and future events at Oadby Library. We overshot the allotted time by half an hour, so that I had barely time to conclude with my ‘world première’ reading of the first chapter of Sausage Hall, third title in the DI Yates series, which I’m grateful to be able to say was very well-received.

At the end of the evening, we took a quick look round the library and had our photograph taken there. Ros had to leave at this point: she has kindly already written about the evening on her blog. We said goodbye to Anne, our charming and extremely well-read hostess, and retired to the car park to release our dog, who had accompanied us for the ride. Then Sandra, Colin, my husband, the dog and I adjourned to the pub down the road (The Fox) to continue the conversation. Eventually, Sandra and Colin went home and we headed back North through the rain-sodden night.

There are some evenings, unfortunately all too rare, when, as a writer, you really feel that you are making progress in the most worthwhile of ways, by talking to a group of sympathetic and interested readers. (The size of the group is immaterial.) For me, the event at Oadby Library was such an occasion. Anne said that she would invite me back again later in the year. I’m looking forward to it already. I’d like to thank her for her wonderful hospitality, and to thank Ros, Sandra and Colin for braving the elements to visit the library last Thursday and for contributing to the marvellous conversation that took place there.

London grit: Anya Lipska’s latest…

09 +00002014-03-23T16:07:26+00:0031 2012 § 4 Comments

Death Can't Take a Joke

This is Anya Lipska’s second novel and again features Janusz Kiszka, the maverick unofficial private investigator, and DC Natalie Kershaw, by now not quite a rookie, of London Docklands Police.  As with Where the Devil Can’t Go, the first of the series, at the heart of the novel lies the tension of the complex relationship that is unfolding between these two central characters. It is counter-balanced by the inner torments and insecurities that each of them experiences individually.  Kiszka, in particular, is haunted by demons from the past, especially for the death in Poland of his first love some twenty years before, for which he feels responsible.  Kershaw is gradually gaining confidence as she begins to succeed in her chosen career; she is proud to have been assigned to her first murder case.  It takes only a little adversity to knock her back, however.  Lipska shows the reader their thoughts and feelings through an adroit use of a dual interior monologue, created with a light touch.

Once again, much of the rich texture of this novel is derived from Lipska’s portrayal of the Polish community in London.  It is clearly a milieu that she understands well, but this is not to detract from her skill in depicting it.  Not every writer is capable of conveying with authenticity the character of an environment with which he or she is familiar.  It is also clear that, like all good writers, she does not merely present us with the raw material; she shapes it, so that she succeeds in making even the minor Polish characters memorable and not mere stereotypes.  Her judicious use of Polish words contributes to the texture of the writing and never seems forced.  (Apparently I’m not the only reader who has been intrigued by them: in response to demand, Lipska has included at the end of the novel a glossary of the Polish words that she has used.)

One character that had seemed to be a little in danger of tipping into the stereotype category in the first novel was that of Kershaw’s boss, Sergeant ‘Streaky’ Bacon. However, in this book, his personality is much more rounded, with some surprising touches: most notably, his concern for Kershaw herself.  Kershaw’s relationship with him improves as he takes on board her capabilities and notices her dedication.

I’ve not said much about the plot of this novel because it is so tightly constructed, with so little superfluous detail, that it would be only too easy to mar this review with a ‘spoiler’.  Very briefly, an apparent suicide which Kershaw is sent to investigate and the murder of one of Kiszka’s friends both take place within a very short space of time.  Are the two deaths linked?

Kershaw and Kiszka set out on separate missions to discover the identities of the perpetrators, Kiszka’s cavalier disregard for orthodox methods clashing with Kershaw’s commitment to operating within the law.  There are some nice ironies along the way, including a surprising last twist near to the end, but there is nothing in this plot that seems contrived: it unfolds with perfect conviction.

Death Can’t Take a Joke is my top read for this spring.  I thoroughly recommend it and I’d like to suggest that, if you missed Where the Devil Can’t Go when it was first published, you won’t be disappointed if you decide to splash out and buy both novels at the same time.

Anya’s book is being launched on 27th March 2014 and I wish her the very best for that!

Copyright and Clark

09 +00002014-03-20T21:19:18+00:0031 2012 § 2 Comments

Clark's Publishing Agreements

I’ve just written a review of Clark’s Publishing Agreements: A Book of Precedents (Ninth Edition).   It’s been published by Bloomsbury and costs £130 (you get a CD for this as well).  I’m not expecting many of my readers to be interested in buying it, but, in case you are, you can obtain a 35% discount off the cover price if you’re attending the London Book Fair.  The ISBN is 978 1 78043 220 5.

The General Editor is Lynette Owen, a colleague and acquaintance whom I admire greatly.  She picked up the baton when Charles Clark, the doyen of copyright law in publishing, died in 2006.  I never met him, but I’ve met people who did and I’ve also seen photos of him.  I picture him as a sort of Rumpole character, a larger-than-life man of what used to be called ‘breeding’ and great intellect, who was both as sharp as a tack and tenacious as a street Arab when it came to defending authors’ and publishers’ right to get paid for their labours.

In fact, although copyright has always needed to be defended, Charles Clark died before the real squeeze began.  Beginning with the Digital Economy Act (2010), which was closely followed by the Hargreaves Report (2011), Richard Hooper’s work on the Copyright Hub (2012) and the Finch Report on Open Access (also 2012), UK copyright law has come under strenuous attack from a government that seems neither to appreciate that the intellectual property of writers and their publishers needs to be protected as much by law as, say, design patents protect pioneering engineers, nor fully to realise just how much of the national income is generated by a flourishing publishing industry.  That industry has, of course, responded with vigour, but in clear-headed fashion.  It is to the credit of both publishers and authors that, on the whole, they have not lost their cool over this.  Instead, they have worked hard together – along with various trade organisations and lawyers – to modify copyright law so that it is accepted as fit for purpose in a digital age without allowing it to be dismantled to the extent that large-scale publishing becomes unsustainable. (I’m not talking about self-publishing here: it has its own micro-economy that is distinctly related to the efforts of the individual author.  But self-publishing is not viable for many types of book, including multi-author works and the numerous academic or non-fiction works that need high levels of pre-publication investment.)  Richard Hooper’s collaborative work demonstrates this patient, reasoned approach at its best.

The backbone of the 9th edition of Clark consists of a series of ‘model’ contracts pertaining to most of the different types of publishing situation  – print and digital, individual and collective, direct and through third parties – for publishers and authors to consult.  Most of them can be amended according to individual needs and circumstances.  The ‘precedents’ therefore collectively represent an up-to-date compendium of best practice in publishing which takes into account all of the recent legislation and the industry’s informed responses to it.

The book offers much more than that, however.  The prefaces to the precedents, the introduction and the nine extensive appendices together explain the context in which the precedents have been set – i.e., the complex world in which writers and publishers have to operate today.  I found Appendix G, which explains exactly what an author’s ‘moral rights’ are, particularly fascinating.  I’d go further, and say that this book has yet more significance: for the collected precedents, commentaries and articles which it contains together demonstrate why copyright is valuable and why everyone who is active in the creative industries should fight to keep it.

Each year since his death, Charles Clark’s family has sponsored the Charles Clark Memorial Lecture.  It always addresses some aspect of copyright and I always try to attend.  The lecture is organised by the Publishers Licensing Society [PLS] and delivered at the London Book Fair.  Two years ago, the guest speaker was Maria Martin-Prat, Head of the Copyright Unit at the European Commission Internal Market Directorate General.  Her speech was eloquent and well-reasoned.  She said many things that resonated with her audience – and undeniably, since it largely comprised publishers and authors, she was preaching to the converted.  However, just one point that she made, towards the end of her presentation, has really stuck in my mind.  Speaking of Open Access, she said that she could understand why the talented and ambitious young people currently studying at universities or working for professional qualifications appreciated being able to obtain yet more and more content free of charge and were therefore vociferous supporters of the ‘free at the point of access’ principle on which Open Access is based; but, in a few years’ time, a considerable proportion of those same young people will have themselves become authors.  If they fail to understand copyright now, and therefore do not help to protect it, they will discover, too late, that they can demand no financial reward for their work nor claim any right to its ownership.  Maria Martin-Prat’s message to her audience was that, if all types of writing are to continue to flourish and to delight, there can be no more important task that demonstrating to the young that copyright is precious and should be treasured.  It is a point that I make as often as I can when I am speaking to young audiences.

I can’t conclude without congratulating Lynette Owen on her flawless work as editor.  I’m sure that Charles Clark is resting in peace, knowing that his work continues to live on under her capable tutelage.

The writer and her blog: Dr Lucy Robinson

09 +00002014-03-15T13:23:32+00:0031 2012 § 6 Comments

Dr Lucy Robinson, from the University of Sussex website

Dr Lucy Robinson, from the University of Sussex website

I’ve been in Brighton for most of this week, attending the academic bookselling and publishing conference for which I’ve been organising the speaker programme for the past fourteen years. I shall eventually write about the whole of this conference, but in a different forum and for a different audience: I don’t think that a detailed account of the present hot topics in academic publishing would greatly appeal to most of the readers of this blog! However, I do think – and hope – that you’ll be interested in the following account of the comments made by Dr Lucy Robinson, lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sussex and published historian, during a fascinating panel session for authors that took place on the first day of the conference.
Lucy said that there was sometimes a tension between writing her blog and writing her book (she has already published a book with Manchester University Press and is currently working on another). Sometimes, she almost feels that there is a competition going on between them and wonders which is the right way to go: should she focus more on the book or concentrate on the blog? But she also said that a smart author could create a ‘virtuous circle’ in which the blog could feed creatively into the book.
She said that she disseminates her research via a number of social networks, but at the same time wants to publish her history of the 1980s in a conventional publishing format. She explained that the challenges facing a contemporary historian are different from those that a historian of, say, the early modern period has to address. For the latter, the main difficulty lies in getting his or her hands on the small amount of material that now survives. Lucy’s challenge is that her material is ‘everywhere’ and that it is important to tell a version of everyone’s story, down to, for example, the cakes that people in the ’80s made or ate. The format that she uses is therefore to a large extent the product of the particular time that she writes about. To organise the material in a conventional book with the same effectiveness that the digital format allows is difficult. Nevertheless, she wants to see her work in both formats.
One of her reasons for this is that, although she values the internet as a medium, she also loves books. Another is that, for an academic, getting a book published by a recognised publisher is an ‘esteem marker’. Academic careers depend upon producing ‘globally significant research in academic form.’ The object is to influence others – fellow academics, researchers, students – to do or think something differently as a result of the research. This goal of impact cannot be achieved unless the research has been published in a traditional, authenticated format. This does not mean that she does not value the blog, however. She said that “the blog helps you to keep up-to-date. It allows you to change your mind. It is little. It is safe. I can best describe it as a way of being ecological with your work: then you can write it up in your book afterwards to give the work authority.”
She added that writers are now on a journey and it is a tricky one. Social networking enables a sort of autobiographical build-up of identity. Parallel to this is the other persona of the academic writing the book, ‘saying clever stuff and selling it to people.’ She repeated that there is a tension there. One of the audience asked her why the print output of her work was so important to her. She replied that she simply wanted to write a book called ‘The History of the 1980s’.
I found this really interesting, because I think that fiction writers often experience the same kind of dichotomy. We, too, value both formats; most of us also seek validation via the printed word. We understand the value of reaching our readers online, via social networking and blogs, and we don’t begrudge the time and effort spent producing work for them to consume free of charge, work that we hope that they will enjoy. There can be few greater rewards for a writer than to gain a following of loyal online readers who are under no compulsion to read our work but nevertheless return to it time and again because they appreciate it. At the same time, most of us also want to write more formally and there can be few writers who don’t mind whether or not they are paid for their formal creative output. Payment is itself a kind of validation. I said this to Lucy over a cup of tea after her presentation and also mentioned that, for me, there was the further dilemma of not having the energy – or, sometimes, merely the ‘bandwidth’ – to write both blog and book and do the day job as well. She agreed, and said that, although for the conference she had distilled her experiences as an academic writer, many of the things of which she spoke had come from the world of fiction writing originally. Academic writers had picked up on some of the digital initiatives that fiction writers had developed and adapted them to their own writing.
Food for thought, and fascinating, I hope you’ll agree. Lucy’s blog may be found here. I hope that perhaps she will become an occasional visitor to this blog now. I’d also welcome comments from other writers who would like to join this debate.

To Brighton again, with spring in step…

09 +00002014-03-11T09:52:01+00:0031 2012 § 4 Comments

From the train window

As you can tell from the date of the picture I took from the train window just over a week ago, this post is a little behindhand.  I was then, and am now, heading south on East Coast rail.  What a lot has changed in one week!  The temperatures have soared, high pressure has established itself over the whole of the UK and the train Wifi is working for once!  I’m conference-bound today, with all the lightness of heart that good weather brings.  Here’s what I wrote last week:

I’m on the train to London again, for the first time in quite a while.  It’s just after 7 a.m. and broad daylight – a luxury that I haven’t experienced on this journey at this time since last October.  It’s chilly: the fields are damp, still drying out after the rains, and a low mist rises from the earth as it warms up for the day.  The sky is oyster-coloured and fretted with a complex pattern of clouds that seem to form the shape of the skeleton of a whale, or some long-dead prehistoric beast; I see a dog running across the grass, but can’t spot its owner.  Mostly the land in this area is flat and arable, but occasional huddles of cows or solitary horses tethered in a paddock, grazing peacefully, flash by.

As usual, there is a problem with the train’s WiFi, but mercifully the electrical sockets are working, so I can still use my laptop.  This is just as well, because, try as I might, I’m struggling to find my fellow passengers interesting.  Opposite me sits a burly man reading the Metro newspaper.  He licks his finger to get a purchase every time he turns the page, an unhygienic habit that I’ve always found irritating (particularly when employed by bank tellers counting out notes that I must then grasp).  I wonder how much newsprint he swallows each week?  The man sitting opposite is slenderer, younger and quite geeky.  He’s wearing square, heavy-framed spectacles and is immersed in his iPad.  I can just see that he is reading the Financial Times (and can tell that he is familiar with East Coast – he’s downloaded the paper before getting on the train!).  At least there’s not much prospect of his sucking on his thumb and index finger as he scrolls down the articles!

Looking round, I see that all my fellow passengers are men.  The ones behind me, each seated at a separate table, are all reading documents and making notes: weekend work that didn’t get done, I guess.

Now the train is approaching Newark Northgate.  The sun is riding quite high in the sky, but is still watery and pale.  Newark is this train’s last stop before King’s Cross.  Quite a crowd of people is waiting to embark, but again not a woman in sight.  Smarter than I, perhaps – they’ve managed to stay at home to enjoy what promises to be a bright early spring day.

Breakfast arrives (I’m travelling first class, though on a very cheap ticket, because I ordered it weeks ago).  It’s a smoked salmon omelette.  Porridge and fruit compote, which was what I really wanted, has apparently ‘sold out’.  I’m sceptical about how this could happen on a Monday morning.  Someone forgot to fill in an order form, perhaps?  The omelette is OK, but the half-bagel on which it sits looks tough and rubbery.  I decide to give it a miss.

All of this, I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite humdrum.  The journey is one that I’ve made scores of times before, usually, but not always, with more promising travelling companions.  (I’m hoping that the rest of it will be as uneventful and that the train will arrive on time, as I have only forty minutes to cross the city to get my connection at Victoria.)  But my spirits are lifting.  I feel the old magic that I’ve always associated with train journeys since I was a child.  It’s been dulled by the dreariness of winter, but today it has returned, in full strength. 

It’s 8.10 a.m.  and the sunlight is streaming through the train window, flinging a glare of orange across the computer screen so that I can hardly see these words.  Spring is here.  When I arrive in London, spring will be burgeoning there, too.  It is the beginning of March and at last it seems as if the year has really started.  There is the whole of the spring to sip at as if it were a delicacy and the almost-certainty that it will be followed by the feast of summer.  It will be eight whole months before we shall arrive at the end of October and watch with dismay the withering of the trees and the light as winter approaches again. 

Today, I am travelling to London, then on to Eastbourne: an ordinary work-day expedition.  But it is part of a much bigger, more exciting journey: my odyssey into 2014.

Today, I am travelling to Brighton, where this year there will be no heaps of snow on the promenade and I’ll be interested to see just how little the storms have left of the West Pier skeleton, which I wrote about and photographed twelve months ago.

Have a lovely week of spring weather, everyone.

Sweet and sour: sugar and our nanny state…

09 +00002014-03-10T15:34:46+00:0031 2012 § 9 Comments

From 'The Times', Saturday March 8th 2014

From ‘The Times’, Saturday March 8th 2014

It’s a beautiful spring day and I’m luxuriating in the winter’s departure – though still with a wary eye on the sky, as I’m mindful that this time last year there were hedge-high snowdrifts in the lanes near my house. When I arrived in Brighton in March 2013 for the conference at which I annually organise the speaker programme (and for which I am departing again tomorrow), the promenade was deep in snow and Brighton, that gaudy seaside princess accustomed only to balmy springs and mild winters, had stamped her foot and gone on strike: nothing was operating; not trains, buses or cafés, and the lone taxi driver who had ventured out deposited me at my hotel with all the air of a Himalayan Sherpa supporting a winter expedition. But tomorrow, I’m told, the sun will be shining, the temperatures unusually warm for the time of year.
It’s perhaps a little unseasonal of me, therefore, to embark upon a rant. Rants are normally reserved for foggy November days and chill winter evenings, when the humours are out of sorts and venting one’s chagrin upon the world is, if not de rigeur, then at least condoned. However, I haven’t had a rant for ages, so perhaps may be allowed a little leeway now. It is also unusual for me to comment on political issues, but I’m going to do that, too.
If you read the newspapers regularly, you will have noticed that the government’s latest frenzied preoccupation is with sugar. Yes, sugar. Not tobacco or marijuana or alcohol or ‘hard’ drugs or even prescription drugs, all of which we know to be major killers in the UK, but sugar. The government is considering the imposition of an extra tax on foods and drinks that contain high sugar content – whatever that means (the cynic in me whispers that this might – incidentally, of course – turn out to be a nice little earner). Meantime, the World Health Organisation (THE WHO?!) has suggested that sugar should form no more than 5% of our diet.
Now, I am not a scientist: in fact, if you were to line up twenty random people and assess their ignorance-of-science credentials, I reckon I would get the top slot, or certainly the runner-up’s. Because I needed a science subject in order to get into university, I studied Biology – that traditional ‘soft option’ for arts and languages students – and, after much labour, succeeded in obtaining a moderately respectable grade which was, incidentally, the worst of all my examination results, ever. However, I do remember quite a lot of the information from my ‘O’ Level Biology course, having managed to din it into myself by rote, and since then I have taken more than a passing interest in nutrition – particularly when I was a new mother – and food generally, as I like cooking. I can therefore state with some confidence that there are simple and complex carbohydrates and that both are absorbed into the digestive system as sugar. Yes, sugar. The difference is that simple carbohydrates don’t take any breaking down – they can more or less be absorbed in the form in which they are ingested, meaning that the person eating them feels satisfied for less time than if he or she is eating complex carbohydrates – which take longer to break down. Therefore, if you eat lots of simple carbohydrates – such as sweets, biscuits and soft drinks – you are more likely to feel hungry again sooner and therefore to get fat, especially if the next lot of food that you eat also consists of simple carbohydrates. Simple, isn’t it? (If I haven’t got this right, I invite those of you with a firmer grounding than mine in science to correct me.)
So far, so good. I have no quarrel with any of that, except to point out that simple carbohydrates are not always ‘bad’ – they can be very useful if, for example, you are out on a hike and need an extra boost. Think Kendal Mint Cake or Dextrosol tablets. And not all simple carbohydrates contain only ‘empty’ calories: some have vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that aid recovery from strenuous activity or illness – Lucozade, for example (though I accept that the same benefits can also be acquired through the consumption of more natural products, such as milk).
What I really want to contest is that the current witch-hunt to track down and vilify sugar seems to me to have confused simple with complex carbohydrates to such an extent that natural foods as well as manufactured ones are now being targeted. And, as I’ve indicated at the beginning of this post, the newspapers, which can often be relied on to counterbalance the government’s more ludicrous excesses with a little cod-wisdom of their own, have on this occasion jumped on to the same bandwagon. Take last Saturday’s edition of The Times, which contained a full-page illustrated feature called ‘The Good Sugar Guide’. At the top of the page, it says that the WHO recommends that we don’t eat more than six teaspoons of sugar per day. If you look down the chart, you will see that one of the biggest sugar ‘culprits’ is the banana. A banana contains, on average, seven teaspoons of sugar.
Exactly what kind of advice is being offered here? Are we being exhorted to give up bananas, that mainstay of just-weaned babies, children’s teas, lunch-boxes and commuters’ breakfasts on the hoof? Bananas, which have in some regions been a foodstuff since the dawn of mankind, and which are known to have a wide range of nutritional and medicinal benefits? (If you’re interested, some of these are listed at http://www.botanical-online.com/platanos1angles.htm.) Or are we supposed to eat six-sevenths of a banana today and save the rest of it for tomorrow, not minding that the remaining seventh is now brown and sludgy and possibly contaminated with bacteria? Or perhaps eat six-sevenths of the banana today and throw the rest away? Nothing else with sugar to be eaten, mind!
The chart proclaims, conversely, that a large glass of red or white wine contains only one quarter of a teaspoon of sugar. Now, I like a glass of wine as much as anybody – I’d say I am definitely in the top quartile of oenophiles. But even I baulk at the prospect of drinking twenty-four glasses of wine to meet my daily sugar requirement.
I’m exaggerating the case to the point of absurdity here, of course – but only so that I can point out that so is the government. I’d like to suggest that there can be no more futile a waste of time, and no more dangerous an exercise, than to confuse and worry people with a chart that lists a heterogeneous collection of foods of widely varying nutritional value with the sole purpose of isolating the sugar content and, on top of that, to fail to distinguish between added sugar and sugar that occurs naturally. We don’t need a nanny state to poke its nose in in this very unhelpful way. And we certainly don’t want to start paying tax on bananas. May I also suggest (if you’ll forgive the pun!) that bananas are low-hanging fruit as far as the government is concerned? Almost everyone eats them: all the major supermarkets rank them in their top five bestsellers. What the government needs to concentrate on instead are the thornier and more serious challenges: tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, ‘hard’ drugs, abuse of prescription drugs, and the rest, and leave us to take care of the sugar, in its various forms.
I feel an urgent need to wolf down a banana. I might have a glass of wine (gosh, alcohol), too. Excuse me.

And then… there’s cake…

The verse venue: Matthew Hedley Stoppard and Ralph Dartford at Rickaro Books

09 +00002014-03-05T18:19:10+00:0031 2012 § 4 Comments

Matthew at Rickaro Books

Matthew at Rickaro Books

Ralph at Rickaro Books

Ralph at Rickaro Books

Rickaro Books, of Horbury, is one of our most distinguished independent bookshops and, like all distinguished independent booksellers, Richard Knowles knows that events don’t just happen: you have to work at them.  Therefore, although World Book Day  – and, by extension, World Book Week – is getting a huge amount of support from the Booksellers Association and individual publishers, with lots of media coverage, whether or not a bookseller succeeds in making it work is down in the end to himself or herself.

Richard has arranged events for almost every day of this week, leading up to World Book Day itself, which is tomorrow, Thursday March 6th. (If you’re interested in finding out more, please click here.)  Tomorrow, he is entertaining a group of schoolchildren in the shop, all wearing fancy dress, and is even going to dress up himself!  (I find this amusing: Richard has obviously mellowed since I worked with him all those years ago, when, if not exactly child-unfriendly, he was certainly selective about the children that he liked!)

However, when I read about Richard’s celebrations for World Book Week, the Rickaro Books event that most intrigued me was the one that took place yesterday.  I made plans to attend it immediately.  It was a live poetry evening, with Ralph Dartford and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (who refers to himself on Twitter as ‘the poor man’s Benedict Cumberbatch’, a soubriquet that immediately endeared him to me).  The shop has an excellent track record at organising poetry readings (I’ve written about them on this blog before) and I knew that yesterday’s would not disappoint.

The two poets recited alternately with the fluency and skill which comes from complete command of the material.  Both were consummate performance artists, but what really impressed me was the quality of the poetry itself.  It is my experience that many live poets are performers first, poets second,  but both Ralph and Matthew are exceptional poets as well as being brilliant at engaging with a bookshop audience.  The latter was pretty special, too, and included a small boy named George who was dressed as Peter Pan.

If you are not familiar with Ralph’s and Matthew’s work and you like poetry, I recommend that you invest in the two books (AND Matthew’s lovely green vinyl record!) that I bought last night.  Cigarettes, Beer and Love, by Ralph, takes the form of a chapbook that has been beautifully produced by the Ossett Observer on hand-made paper.  Matthew’s A Family Behind Glass, published by Valley Press, has all the elegance of a classic ‘slim volume’.  Which poems did I enjoy most last night?

Well, the Co-op store in Ossett will never be quite the same to me again, now that Ralph has given me ‘Co-op Live Art Fiasco’, which describes his effort to show the individuals in the checkout queue that their investment in the Lottery pays for art (and his wages)… by stripping stark naked and doing some ‘live art’ with a Lucozade bottle.  The constable summoned to the event says: “I once saw something like this in Berlin.  A scratch card paid for the trip.  I quite liked it.”   (Ralph was led away at 08.46.)      As readers of this blog know well, I’m game for a laugh, but there’s serious stuff behind Ralph’s humour.

Ralph describes Matthew as the ‘cerebral’ one of the pair (but all their poems last night were ‘thinky’, even the most superficially frivolous of them!).  In fact, one poem of Matthew’s touched me a lot and spoke to me very clearly from my own past in our first rented marital flat in Leeds.

He set the context of a rented house in Rothwell, his and his wife’s first home, at a time when, he said, they weren’t really ready to be adults, yet.  I’ll give you the first stanza, so that you may be touched as well:

Now that the streetlamps have stolen the stars

From the afternoon sky, sleep, content

And lovely as custard, pours over us.  We sit

With winter on the settee, arm in arm  – 

Our legs interlaced like denim snakes,

Bedlam pressed between our palms.                           [From ‘The Wendy House’]

Matthew is about to take up a post with Leeds City Libraries: I’d like to wish him well with this.  Ralph works for the Arts Council, and knows Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing.  He observed, unsurprisingly, that they are both ‘lovely people’.  He kindly bought In the Family before he left the shop, which gave what had already been a very enjoyable evening a considerable extra fillip for me!

I wish Richard every success with World Book Day.  (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he receives the schoolchildren tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to travel to London instead.)  And I hope very much indeed that I shall meet Matthew and Ralph again.  In the meantime, I shall enjoy reading their poetry for myself.  Thanks to them for introducing me so beautifully to it.
Precious poetry pack Precious poetry pack
How to get a book signed by poets How to get a book signed by two priceless poets

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