Ian McMillan, South Yorkshire’s own shrewd and very funny poet (the ‘bard of Barnsley’ and ‘poet in residence’ at Barnsley FC), gave a book launch and signing session at Rickaro Books in Horbury yesterday evening. It was an event that I’d been looking forward to for a long time, having heard Ian perform once before, at a school. He is a performance poet second to none.
I arrived early at the shop with my husband. Ian was already there, entertaining all the other early arrivals. Even Richard Knowles, the owner of Rickaro Books, seemed excited. Richard is professionally lugubrious: his catch-phrase when I worked with him a quarter of a century ago was ‘Life is Cricklewood, not Hollywood.’ Yet he’d invested in a big box of Cadbury’s Celebrations (only slightly dimming the gesture by explaining that they were left over from Trick or Treat night and also instructing his guests to take the Snickers chocolates first, as he doesn’t like them) and shared his special ‘bookseller’s provender’- malted milk chocolate biscuits – with Ian. He had even brought along his flat cap for the occasion.
At this point, I should perhaps explain that Ian’s new book, a collaboration with eminent cartoonist Tony Husband, is entitled 101 Uses for a Flat Cap. Published by Dalesman, whose account manager was also at the meeting – he’d kindly brought along copies of all Ian’s books – this latest offering from Ian and Tony does exactly what it says on the tin… er, sorry, book. It consists of 101 pieces about the trademark Yorkshire flat cap, inserted by its author into every possible historical and practical situation: ‘All made up! Every one of them!’ Ian kept on cheerfully insisting. He read several of these poems as well as, with passion, a more poignant extract from another recent title, The Tale of Walter the Pencil Man. Dedicated to his great uncle, Joseph Fletcher, who died at the Somme aged twenty-four, this is the reflective and touching tale of a Yorkshire pit village lad who tries with his pencil and paper to cope with what is happening around him as he fights on the First World War battlefields. It’s very topical, of course, and I’m sure will enjoy many sales this year and next, as we approach the centenary of the start of the Great War.
Tony Husband, Ian’s illustrator, accompanied him. It was a real thrill to meet him: he’s a very accomplished, not to say distinguished, artist, who draws for several famous publications, including Private Eye (Yobs), and has been Cartoonist of the Year several times. He told me that he and Ian Hislop arrived at the Eye at about the same time, twenty-five years ago (about the same time that Richard and I ceased to be colleagues!). Tony worked fast and incredibly hard all evening: he not only signed every book that was purchased, but drew a picture in it as well; he also drew a picture to accompany each of the poems, simultaneously with Ian’s recitation, and distributed them among members of the audience afterwards. The picture he gave to me, which I shall certainly have framed, illustrates the poem entitled ‘The Flat Cap Scene from King Lear (now lost)’. It’s my particular favourite, not least because it’s arch about Lincolnshire (my home county) and Norfolk (home of my publisher, Salt), though Ian did qualify his comments by saying that he loved South Lincolnshire and even recollected an event that he’d given at ‘one of the Gedneys’ – impressive, as the Gedneys are very small villages in the back of beyond.
Here’s a taster of the poem; the rest is hilarious, but you’ll need to buy the book to find out! (Plug, plug…)
Lear: Oh fool, what dost sport upon thy head?
It seems exceeding flat and dull, i’faith,
As Lincolnshire and Norfolk, two flat places in the East.
This occasion was everything that an event in a bookshop should be: convivial, hospitable (Richard’s wife Carole provided a delicious and warming mulled wine) and humorous, with a great deal of ad libbing from both Ian McMillan and Tony Husband, as well as from members of the audience. It was extremely well attended and I’m sure that, like us, everyone who was there went home happy and enriched by all the pleasures that it brought. Richard also used the occasion to promote BOOKS ARE MY BAG, an initiative that is close to my heart, as readers of this blog will know.
And there was no charge for attending: certain chain booksellers, please take note!
Very many thanks to Rickaro Books, Tony and Ian, for an evening to remember: