Sausage Hall

From Wakefield to Covent Garden, ‘Sausage Hall’ has found great friends!

Launching 'Sausage Hall' at Wakefield

Launching ‘Sausage Hall’ at Wakefield

This is the final post on my launch week activities for Sausage Hall.  I’m covering the last two events: Tea at Sausage Hall, an imaginative tea-party given last Wednesday by Alison Cassels, Lynne Holroyd, Claire Pickering and their colleagues at the Wakefield Library at Wakefield One, which regular readers of this blog will know has provided me with granite-strength support ever since In the Family was published two years ago,

Tea at Sausage Hall (And yes, there was cake!)

Tea at Sausage Hall (And yes, there was cake!)

and an evening of conversation and readings at the Covent Garden branch of Waterstones, rounding off the celebrations with a London launch on Thursday.

Ever resourceful, Alison and her team provided sausage rolls, cake (Yes, there was cake!) and biscuits for the tea party.  (Her e-mail to me when organising the event reads ‘Can you put chocolate cake in the title of your next book?’)

Lynne Holroyd, the liveliest purveyor of refreshments I've ever known!

Lynne Holroyd, the liveliest purveyor of refreshments I’ve ever known!

A warm welcome, as always, from Alison Cassels

A warm welcome, as always, from Alison Cassels

As always, she promoted the occasion superlatively well and attracted a lively and engaging audience, amongst whom were old friends (such as Marjorie and Pauline – both also fab visitors to my blog) from the library’s book club, as well as many interesting new faces.

There’s obviously a lively and diverse events programme at Wakefield One: under the table bearing the tea-cups was a box containing a plastic skeleton (I was rather disappointed that someone arrived to remove it, as a suitable visual aid never goes amiss), while high on one of the shelves was a stuffed green parrot in a glass case.  (My husband dared me to say ‘Norwegian Green?  Is it nailed to its perch?’, but, though tempted, I’m afraid I failed to rise to the occasion, having on my mind things other than late parrots gone to meet their maker.)

Wakefield One audiences are truly wonderful.
Wakefield 6
Wakefield 5
They are united in their love of books and reading, and not afraid to tell it how it is.  I’m delighted that they like my novels, because they would certainly tell me if they didn’t – during the course of the afternoon, they told me exactly what they thought of the work of a writer who is much better known than I am!  As well as being extremely perspicacious, they’re fun and they like to have fun.
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Wakefield 4
They know what they want and they want more of it: I’ve already promised to return to talk to them about DI Yates numbers 4 and 5.  It was my first Wakefield audience that told me how much they enjoyed reading about Juliet Armstrong and that they’d like to see more of her.  I hope that they’ll think I’ve done so in Sausage Hall, where Juliet’s story takes a new turn.

Several of the Wakefield readers had already bought Sausage Hall and came armed with it for me to sign.  Others bought it during the tea-party; as at my other Wakefield events, the books were kindly supplied by Rickaro Books in Horbury.  A man in the audience asked for an interesting, and very relevant, inscription (see caption): apparently, these are the nicknames of his brother and sister-in-law!
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To Pig and Sausage, with love!

To Pig and Sausage, with love!

The event at Waterstones Covent Garden was masterminded by Jen Shenton, the bookshop’s lovely ‘can-do’ manager.

Waterstones Covent Garden Manager Jen Shenton welcomes me to her beautiful bookshop

Waterstones Covent Garden Manager Jen Shenton welcomes me to her beautiful bookshop

I hadn’t met her before, but as soon as I saw her I knew what a distinguished bookseller she is.  It’s something you can’t fake: I honestly believe that the best booksellers  are born, not made, though that’s not to say they don’t work hard all the time in order to stay ahead.  I didn’t leave Jen’s shop until almost 9 p.m., and she was still there behind the till, helping customers, smiling and looking as fresh as a daisy, even though she must have been feeling exhausted.
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This event also had a wonderful audience.
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Waterstones 7Waterstones 3
Waterstones 9
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Waterstones 4
Waterstones 2
Waterstones 5
Many of my friends from the book industry came (which meant they bowled me a few googlies when it came to the questions).  It was a light-hearted, laughter-filled evening, well lubricated with Waterstones wine and sustained by Adams & Harlow sausage rolls.  I was delighted that Tabitha Pelly, who has worked with Salt on PR for Sausage Hall, was able to come.  Like Jen Shenton, she seems never to tire or have a negative thought in her head.

I left the shop laden with some book purchases of my own and headed for King’s Cross station to catch the last train.  It was the perfect end to an extraordinary week.  My only sadness was that Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery, my publishers at Salt, were unable to come.  But I know that they’ve been keen followers of my progress as I’ve sprung Sausage Hall upon the world and I look forward to catching up with them next week.  Today is Chris’s birthday: I’d like to take the opportunity to wish him many happy returns!
Sausages and 'Sausage Hall'
Grateful thanks, once again, to Adams and Harlow for their wonderful sponsorship of the launch of Sausage Hall.

Two events for Sausage Hall in two amazing bookshops

In this extraordinary Sausage Hall launch week, which I am enjoying so much and for which I am very grateful, I’d like to pay tribute to two amazing bookshops.

Bookmark, Spalding

Bookmark, Spalding

The first is Bookmark, Spalding’s very distinguished bookshop (the CEO of the Booksellers Association, Tim Godfray, has even been known to serve behind the till there on occasion). Bookmark very generously offered to host the Sausage Hall publication day party, which took place in the evening of November 17th, after the day that I spent at Spalding High School. The event was masterminded by Christine Hanson, the owner of the shop (who is both practical and imaginative – she fixed both a toilet roll holder and a broken table joint within minutes of my arrival, while the shop itself, resplendent with its Christmas stock and decorations, achieved a standard that I’d have dearly liked to replicate in my bookselling days), and Sam Buckley, also a former pupil of Spalding High School, who organises author sessions at the shop. Equally generously, the launch party was sponsored by Adams and Harlow, the local pork butchers, who supplied sausage rolls for the occasion.

Having fun at Bookmark

Having fun at Bookmark

This event was attended by members of Bookmark’s lively reading group and some old friends of my own. I was astounded to see Finola, a day-job friend – she had driven for more than an hour from Cambridge in order to support me. I was also staunchly supported by Madelaine, one of my oldest friends, and her husband, Marc, who have both offered me hospitality every time I’ve returned to Spalding as Christina James and also bought many copies of my books as presents for everyone they know who might enjoy them.

With Madelaine at Bookmark

With Madelaine at Bookmark

Madelaine’s contribution to my writing is acknowledged in Sausage Hall. I was also delighted to see Sarah Oliver, whom I first met at the Priory Academy last spring and who came with her husband. The book club members, who lived up to their reputation for being engaged and vivacious, were shrewd and perceptive: as well as listening attentively to two readings from Sausage Hall, they launched into an animated discussion about all three DI Yates novels. Everyone present bought at least one of the books, some more than one. (Sam Buckley later this week let me know that one member of the audience, who had not read any of the novels and took away with her In the Family, returned within forty-eight hours, having read it, to acquire Almost Love and Sausage Hall as well!) And, of course, I couldn’t myself resist making a few purchases in this fairy-tale bookshop.
Having spent the night with my son and daughter-in-law at their house in Cambridgeshire, I arrived in good time on Tuesday November 18th for a signing session at Walkers Bookshop in Stamford. Although I first met Tim Walker, its owner, last year (he’s currently President of the Booksellers Association), I had not visited one of his bookshops before, The one in Stamford is in a listed building in the town centre; he also owns another in Oakham. I was particularly impressed by the huge range of stock in this shop, both the cards and gifts downstairs and the extensive range of books upstairs. Tim and the manager, Jenny Pugh, were respectively at the other shop and taking holiday, but everything had been set up for me and Mandy, the assistant manager on the book floor, couldn’t have made me more welcome.

Signing Sausage Hall for Elaine and Sheila at Walkers, Stamford

Signing Sausage Hall for Elaine and Sheila at Walkers, Stamford

Bookmark and Walkers are two fine examples of thriving independent bookshops, packed with atmosphere and individual charm and led by brilliantly creative people who understand how to serve their communities very well indeed. It was a privilege and a pleasure for me to have been able to enjoy what they had to offer and I’d very much like to thank Christine and Tim for hosting Sausage Hall events this week.

Walkers, Stamford

Walkers, Stamford

One writer looking back… lots of writers looking forwards!

Spalding High School

Spalding High School

At first light yesterday, I travelled to Spalding High School, my own former school, to which I had returned only once previously since leaving the sixth form.  I received a wonderful welcome from Adrian Isted, the newly-appointed Head of English, who began the day’s activities by showing me round the school.

With Adrian Isted, Head of English

With Adrian Isted, Head of English


First stop was the office of the headteacher, Mrs. Michele Anderson, who is also fairly new to the school.  She was fascinated to hear a little more from me about Mrs. Jeanne Driver, the first married headteacher at the school, who was its leader throughout my school career.  Born Jeanne Ouseley, she lived at 10, High Street, a large house of several storeys situated near the River Welland in Spalding.  Part of this house was divided into flats and there were usually several other teachers living there, as well as two of my fellow sixth formers, Cheryl Ouseley and Elizabeth Davies, both of whom were her nieces.  They called her ‘Auntie Jeanne’, a name that the rest of the sixth form also used affectionately, if unofficially.  Mrs. Driver was one of several strong women who influenced me as a girl.  She had a strong sense of duty and an even stronger work ethic.  We found some of the things she said highly amusing (for example, ‘I stand up whenever I hear the national anthem, even if I’m in the bath.’).  Sometimes she took the notion of duty to an extreme.  I remember she told us that when her husband, who had been in ill health for some time, finally died, she finished marking a set of books before setting in train the preparations for his funeral.  But her influence has lasted all my life.

The school has been added to, but otherwise is little changed.  I suppose the thing that struck me most yesterday is how it seems to have shrunk.  The corridors seemed longer, the stairways steeper, the ceilings higher when I first attended it as an eleven-year-old, then for only a part of the school week – pupils belonging to the first two school years still spent most of their time at the old school building in London Road, the first home of Spalding High School when it was established in 1920 on the site of its predecessor, the privately-owned ‘Welland Academy for Young Ladies’.   (The present school building was completed in 1959, but the London Road property continued to be used by younger pupils for more than twenty years afterwards.)  The assembly hall still boasts its luxurious but absurdly impractical parquet floor. 
The hall, unchanged
In my day it doubled up as a gym (there is now a separate sports hall) and we were obliged to do PE barefoot, which we all hated, so that the floor wouldn’t become scuffed by gym shoes.  The same grand piano stands in the corner, to the left of the stage.  In the corridor outside the headteacher’s office are several group photographs taken of all the teachers and pupils at intervals during the school’s history.  After some searching, I was able to discover myself on one of these – and I could also name all the other girls in my form and most of the teachers.

Guess which is the young Christina James!

Guess which is the young Christina James!

After the tour, I was interviewed by Eleanor Toal and Holly Hetherington for High Quarterly, the school’s completely online magazine (which is streets ahead of the drab, dark-red-covered printed production of my youth).  Eleanor, the e-zine’s editor, also writes articles for the Spalding Guardian, carrying on the long-standing relationship between the school and the local newspaper.  Eleanor and Holly (who edits Gardening and Food in the mag) knew they were going to be asked to interview me only very shortly before we met, because the intended interviewer was ill, but I wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t told me.  I was much struck by the sensitivity and perspicacity of their questions and enjoyed answering them.

Holly, left, and Eleanor interview me for High Quarterly

Holly, left, and Eleanor interview me for High Quarterly

After lunch, I talked to sixth form English students about how to get published.  Jean Hodge, who reports on cultural affairs for the Spalding Guardian, also attended and joined in.  It was quite an exciting occasion, because it also took the first steps towards setting up a short-story competition that the Great British Bookshop has agreed to sponsor at the High School.  Adrian and his colleagues and I will choose the best ten or twelve stories submitted to be published in a single volume at The Great British Bookshop’s expense.  Winners will each receive a free copy of the book, which will then go on sale in TGBB’s extensive distribution network.  I’ll be writing more about the competition in this blog very shortly.

Sixth Form writers

Sixth Form writers

I completed my day at the school with a writers’ workshop for Years 7, 8 and 9 students.  The participants explored some of the key elements of crime fiction (they proved to be very well read) and collaborated to put some of those into practice.  Their discussion illustrated their excellent grasp of linguistic and literary effects and the results were amazing!  Nearly all of these students bought one of my books at the end of the session; some bought all three.  Thank you!
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Workshop 3
Workshop 4
Workshop 6
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

I can’t conclude this post without saying that a remarkable library now exists at Spalding High School.  The library is housed in the same room that I knew, but what a difference in the stock!  The emphasis is on supplying students with books to read for pleasure.  It’s a place of relaxation and also a place where students can go to work in groups.  There’s none of the shushing and grim looks that any talking in the library produced when I was a schoolgirl and all the dusty old Latin grammars and ancient editions of Gray’s Anatomy have been disappeared.  Hats off in particular to Kirsty Lees, the School Librarian and Learning Resources Manager, and to her team.  The school knows how lucky it is to have them and to be able to enjoy the warm and inviting place (complete with crime scene rug featuring a splayed body) that they have turned it into.

It’s almost impossible for me to thank all the people who made this day so special.  I’m deeply grateful to Michele Anderson for making it possible; to Adrian Isted and Kirsty, for making it happen; to Eleanor and Holly, for giving me such a delightful interview; to Jean Hodge, for all her support for Sausage Hall both at this event and elsewhere and, especially, to all the students whom I met yesterday, who were such a joy to work with and who were so keen to develop their own writing.  Thank you all!

Adams and Harlow: Kind sponsors of ‘Sausage Hall’

Sausages and 'Sausage Hall'
As you will know from my previous post, the launch of ‘Sausage Hall’ is being sponsored by a Spalding company I grew up with.  In fact, I went to Spalding High School with one of the daughters of the family!  I certainly remember that their products graced the tables not only of my own household, but those of all of my friends and relatives as well.  The Lincolnshire family firm of butchers, George Adams, based in Spalding, has been associated with great sausages, meat and fantastic handmade pork pies for nearly a hundred years. But now, Mary and Lizzi, the great-grand-daughters of the founder of the first shop, are launching a new brand: Adams & Harlow, which will undoubtedly be noted for the same extraordinary pork pies and sausages.

Mary and Lizzi’s pork pie heritage consists not just of George, but of their other great-grandfather too – Dick Harlow, whose family set up a butcher’s shop in Boston, Lincolnshire in 1895! So, whilst Adams & Harlow is a new venture, its two founders have extraordinary expertise and an amazing heritage with great provenance and tradition.

As was the way a hundred years ago, each Adams & Harlow pork pie is individual and made with only the finest ingredients, including 100% British meat.  As each hand-raised pie takes two days to make, with sixteen different stages to complete before it even enters the oven, every one is the product of extraordinary skill passed down through the generations!  Adams & Harlow pork pies taste every bit as delicious as those made by George and Dick all those years ago.

Based in the original George Adams butcher’s shop in Spalding, Adams and Harlow still make the ever-popular Lincolnshire Sausage recipe, using top-quality British pork and secret seasoning blend.

Adams and Harlow products are available at a number of regional and nationwide independent shops, details of which appear on their website;  they can be ordered online from British Fine Foods and Ocado as well as bought directly from the original George Adams butcher’s shop in Spalding.

I’m delighted and honoured to have been sponsored by Mary and Lizzi, who will be providing their wonderful fare at Monday’s November 17th ‘Sausage Hall’ launch at Bookmark, Spalding, and at the London launch at Waterstones, Covent Garden, on Thursday November 20th.  A fitting accompaniment to a story based in a Lincolnshire house built by a butcher!

 

Strong links in the chain to ‘Sausage Hall’, to be published Nov. 17th 2014

Sausage Hall
I am extremely grateful to you, the readers of this blog, both those of you whom I’ve met in person and those from countries around the world whom I’ve met ‘virtually’, for the huge welcome that you have given Sausage Hall.  Thank you very much indeed.

As many of you know, Sausage Hall will be published next Monday, November 17th.  My wonderful publishers, Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery at Salt Publishing,
Salttheir equally stellar PR consultant, Tabitha Pelly, Faber (which now represents Salt titles) and my bookselling and librarian friends have combined to make happen a series of celebration events.

The first of these is today, Thursday November 13th, when Nicola Gilroy will be interviewing me live on Radio Lincolnshire at 14.05. I hope that you will be able to listen; if not, I think the interview will be on iPlayer for twenty-four hours after broadcast.

Monday November 17th is a very special day indeed. I’m spending much of it at Spalding High School,
Spalding High
where I was once a student (Facebook doesn’t know this, having inexplicably assigned me to Wycliffe Senior School and Sixth Form College!  I don’t intend to disabuse it!).  I’m giving a young writers’ workshop and talking about how I came to write Sausage Hall, but first of all I’m being taken on a tour of the school by Adrian Isted, the present Head of English.  I’m really looking forward to this, and especially to meeting the students.

Also on November 17th, in the evening, Bookmark, Spalding’s very distinguished bookshop,
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is hosting the official launch event. This will begin at 19.00.  I’m delighted to be able to announce that it is being sponsored by Adams and Harlow, the pork butchers, who will supply sausage-themed canapés.  Wine will also be served. As well as signing copies of Sausage Hall, I’ll be giving some readings and talking about all the DI Yates novels.  I’d like to offer my thanks in advance to Christine Hanson and Sam Buckley, who have supported all the novels as they’ve been published.  In conjunction with Spalding Guardian, they’ve also arranged a DI Yates competition, the prizes for which will be four sets of the DI Yates titles.

On November 18th, I’m travelling to Walkers Books in Stamford,
Walkers
where I’ll be signing copies of Sausage Hall and talking about it informally between 11.00 and 13.00. I’d like to thank Tim Walker and Jenny Pugh for all their support.  More about this may be found here.

Wednesday November 19th finds me back at wonderful Wakefield One, where Alison Cassels has organised Tea at Sausage Hall, an informal talk-and-signing session, with refreshments, that will start at 14.30.  Regular readers will know that Wakefield One has been a particularly magnificent supporter of mine.  Books will be supplied by Richard Knowles of Rickaro Books, another staunch supporter.

Rickaro Books, Horbury

Rickaro Books, Horbury

There is more about Tea at Sausage Hall here.  If you live in the Wakefield area or are visiting, it would be great to see you at this event.

On Thursday November 20th the Waterstones bookshop in Covent Garden is giving a London launch event.  As Adams and Harlow are sponsoring this, too, there will be sausages as well as wine!  This reading and signing session will begin at 19.00 and continue until the shop closes.  It has already attracted a large audience, so it should be quite a party!  The store’s brilliant manager, Jen Shenton, and I would be delighted to see you there.  More information can be found here.

And Friday 21st November?  At present, nothing is planned, so this will be a rest day…  but I’m open to offers!

In in verse proportion: half the stress; double the delight!

Richard of Rickaro Books presents the Tracey Emin-endorsed Books Are My Bag bag

Richard of Rickaro Books presents the Tracey Emin-endorsed Books Are My Bag bag

Yesterday I spent a superlative afternoon at Rickaro Books, Horbury, to celebrate three events: the launch of Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times, by A Firm Of Poets (some of whom are now also Firm Friends of this blog!) on the first day of this year’s Books Are My Bag festivities; the birthday of one of Rickaro Books’ regular customers; and last, but by no means least, the thirteenth birthday of Rickaro Books itself.  Toasts were drunk in sparkling wine while it rained outside: a wonderfully cosy and pleasantly decadent way of spending a Saturday afternoon!

The four poets who performed yesterday were Ralph Dartford, a founding member of A Firm Of Poets, accounts of whose at once tongue-in-cheek and poignant performances (‘Now then! / In November 1950 / Pablo Picasso / visited Sheffield / for a hair cut, / Peace, / and some toast.’) have graced this blog before (he has a lovely wife who always supports his performances);

Ralph Dartford

Ralph Dartford

Matt Abbott, a born performance poet, whose rendering of a pathetic yet comic drunk was particularly hilarious (‘I’ll have a bottle of Beck’s from the fridge / ‘cause you all might have stopped drinking / but I’m from Horbury Bridge / and I’m – yeah, I’ll have some gravy, love …’);

Matt Abbott

Matt Abbott

and, new to me but very impressive indeed, the goth poet Geneviève Walsh (‘So many love songs which compare desire to sunshine, / a practice as futile as comparing art to dust. / This is England, see, and the sunshine’s more akin / to a tax rebate / or a lottery win’).

Geneviève Walsh

Geneviève Walsh

The work of all these poets, as well as that of John Darwin and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (whom I’ve also met and been wowed by at an event at Rickaro Books, so I was disappointed that he couldn’t be there yesterday) appears in the beautifully-produced, chapbook-style Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times

Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times

Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times

If you happen to be in West Yorkshire, you could do no better than to buy it from Rickaro Books and have a look round the shop at the same time – it is a very distinctive shop which sells both new and antiquarian books.

But I mentioned four poets and I’ve only described three. There was, in fact, a fourth poet present, who also performed, joining A Firm Of Poets as he regularly does; his poems (which he read from his mobile phone, having forgotten to bring the text with him!) don’t feature in Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times.  His name is William Thirsk-Gaskill.

William Thirsk-Gaskill

William Thirsk-Gaskill

Perhaps because he now has a double-barrelled name, my husband and I didn’t recognise the former plain William Gaskill at first – though my husband says that he knew the voice as soon as he heard William speak.  When we first met, he was a very talented schoolboy and we were also young, though not as young as he was (William obligingly informed us that my husband was twenty-nine at the time, so I will have been twenty-eight!).  To see him again gave the day an extra special bonus.  William was also selling a book: Escape Kit, a novella, which we have bought but have yet to read.  I’ll review it here when I’ve finished it.

Escape KIt

Escape KIt

Events at Rickaro Books are always distinctive, memorable and successful. It was a great privilege to be able to attend its Books Are My Bag launch and celebrate with A Firm of Poets.  I am therefore extraordinarily proud to be able to tell my readers that Richard of Rickaro Books will be supplying the stock at ‘Tea at Sausage Hall’, Wakefield One’s wonderful way of celebrating the publication of the third of my DI Yates series, on November 19th.  And I’m thrilled that some of A Firm of Poets have said that they will be supporting me by attending.  Riches indeed!  Thank you all so much.  I’m looking forward to it already.  Meantime, I wish you every success with your books.

Books Are My Bag 2014

Books Are My Bag 2014

WriterFest!

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Yesterday Jim, my editor, and I enjoyed the immense privilege of running a writers’ workshop at Wakefield One, the City of Wakefield’s wonderful new complex that incorporates the library and other arts and community facilities. Like the event in which I took part at Wakefield One last year, it was part of Wakefield’s LitFest, and impeccably organised by Alison Cassels, who, in my experience, is second to none at enthusing and gathering in intelligent and appreciative audiences for such occasions. 

Alison Cassels, organiser par excellence

Alison Cassels, organiser par excellence


Eventually, there were twenty-two lively and responsive participants of all ages, from twenty upwards.  One recent graduate came with his grandfather.
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We began by giving the workshop delegates a sheet containing the opening paragraphs of six novels and asked them to take on the editor’s task of choosing (and providing justification for their selection!) just one that they would personally want to publish. The results were Illuminating: although one of the extracts (actually from a novel by Ruth Rendell) emerged as the clear winner, all six had at least one champion.  Everyone was thus able to appreciate the dilemma of choice that an editor faces when sent many different manuscripts.  Then, in pairs and against the clock, the group accepted the challenge of producing an opening paragraph that might persuade an editor not to reject it. The results were exceptional: all were coherent, interesting and, most impressively, cliché-free; the activity itself generated wonderful engagement, as you can see in the photographs here.
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Wakefield 1

I then went on to explore some of the practicalities of getting published and what new (and, indeed, established) authors need to do in order to engage and keep their readers. This audience was thoughtful as well as appreciative and turned it into a dynamic, interactive session.  Finally, I read the opening chapter of Sausage Hall, the third in the DI Yates series, which will be published on 17th November; it was well-received (I’d been holding my breath, as I’m sure all authors do when they give their new ‘baby’ its first airings).  The workshop members were generous: many bought copies of In the Family and Almost Love in the signing session at the end; some were kind enough to buy both.

The informal debate continued after the workshop was officially over. Several participants said that they’d been delighted to receive Salt Publishing’s online alerts.  If any of the readers of this blog would also like to obtain these, just let me know and I’ll pass on the information.

Very many thanks indeed to Alison Cassels and the rest of the staff at Wakefield One (not forgetting those who work in the Create coffee shop, which produces a mean cappuccino!) and heartfelt gratitude to all those who joined the workshop – I hope that you will become occasional or even regular visitors to this blog.

An anniversary I always remember…

Elizabeth Wood

Yesterday was the anniversary of my grandmother’s birth.  She was born on 9th August 1892, which means that if she were still alive she would be 122 today.  That is 164 days younger than the age attained by Jeanne Calment, the oldest verified person who ever lived, who died in 1997 (though a Bolivian man called Carmelo Flores Laura, still living, is reputedly 123).  I like to think, therefore, that she could still be alive and vying with Signor Flores Laura for the distinction of being the oldest person in the world.

My grandmother actually died on 9th February 1979, when she was eighty-six and a half.  She outlived all of the famous people who are listed as having been born on the same day as she except for one: Thomas Fasti Dinesen.  I’ve never heard of him – I’m indebted to Wikipedia for this piece of information – but apparently he was a Danish recipient of the Victoria Cross who died on 10th March 1979, about a month later than my grandmother.  Significant events that happened on her actual birthday include that it was the day that Thomas Edison was awarded a patent for a two-way telegraph and (of more interest to me and perhaps to readers of this blog) the first day of the trial of Lizzie Borden, the celebrated American murderess.

Every year when this date comes round, I pay a small, silent tribute to the strong, elegant and feisty woman that my grandmother was.  She was in domestic service all her working life, a period which began when she was fourteen and did not end until she was seventy-four, with a very short break for the birth of my mother.  She started her career, Tess of the d’Urbervilles fashion, as a poultry maid, working for an elderly lady in her native Kent.  During the First World War, she trained as a nursery nurse at Bart’s Hospital and worked in London for more than a decade, looking after the two daughters (one was adopted and much younger than the other) of a Scottish diplomat.  She then moved to South Lincolnshire to take up the post of housekeeper to Samuel Frear, the last of the great Lincolnshire sheep farmers.  He lived at a large house called The Yews.  It’s still standing, just off the main Spalding-Surfleet road.  During the Second World War, after Mrs Frear’s death, she moved to Spalding to another housekeeping job, this time working for the Hearnshaw family.  They lived in a substantial three-storey house in Pinchbeck Road.  Her final post was as lady companion to a very old lady called Mrs James, who lived at The Laurels in Sutterton. 
Sausage Hall
Sausage Hall, the house that features in the next DI Yates novel (to be published on 17th November) is partly based on The Laurels.  I can remember visiting my grandmother there when I was a small child.

When Mrs James became too ill to be cared for at home, my grandmother finally retired, to 1 Stonegate in Spalding, one of three mews houses built in 1795.  These houses have since been renovated, but when she lived there they had hardly changed since they were new: the toilet was at the end of the short back garden path and, although she had a bath, it had been installed in the kitchen: there was no bathroom as such.
Stonegate
This house (the one on the right of the three in this picture) suited her well, because it was a short walk from Spalding town centre and just over the road from Spalding Parish Church, which she attended several times during the week and up to three times on Sundays (always clad in hat, gloves and stockings, even on the hottest of days).

As it happens, I’m just reading Servants: a downstairs view of twentieth-century Britain, by Lucy Lethbridge.  This is a meticulously-researched book.  Although accessible, it is much more scholarly than many books I’ve read on the subject, which often fall into the trap of reading like a cross between Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
Servants
Many of the things that Lethbridge describes remind me of my grandmother’s accounts of work in the world of domestic service, but with one exception: she clearly never found the work demeaning and, although she must have been respectful towards her employers, she certainly did not kowtow to them.  In fact, she gave me the impression that, in her day, trained servants were in such short supply that she could pick and choose whom she worked for and certainly earn a respectable salary.

My guess is that this was not because Lethbridge (or, indeed, my grandmother) has exaggerated the nature of the employer-servant relationship, but because my grandmother generally worked in a stratum of society not much covered by Lethbridge’s book: that of the upper-middle classes.  Thus my grandmother was neither subject to the rules and strictures that servants in the grand stately homes had to observe, nor was she obliged to suffer the petty tyrannies and hard labour imposed by a ‘jumped-up’ lower-middle class mistress who could afford only one servant.  The people for whom she worked were kind, enlightened, appreciative and wealthy enough to be able to pay for charladies, gardeners, maids-of-all-work and outsourced laundry services.

This is not to say that my grandmother did not work hard; I’m certain that she did.  I know, for example, that when she was working for the Hearnshaws, she was accustomed to cook Christmas dinner for sixteen people.  But the work that she did was appreciated and she had time to devote to her own preferred leisure activities: reading (especially geography books, a passion with her), fine embroidery and Christian worship.  Each year her employers enabled her to take an annual holiday, either at the seaside or walking on the Yorkshire Moors.

She lived a long and useful life and, I think, it was overall a happy one.  Reading Lucy Lethbridge’s book (which I thoroughly recommend), I am grateful to those long-gone employers for the way that they treated her.

 

Surprises come in threes at Oadby Library!

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.

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