The Song Remains The Same

Hazel and Emily

The afternoon of 3oth June I had the pleasure of seeing The Askew Sisters at St John’s Church as apart of the Chichester Festivities. They were two lively young women  who played spirited dance music and sang moving ballads and the like. Delightful – and if you get the chance, do go see them.

But one thing stood out – they sprang from English tradition – and I love it, whether in music or stories.

Now the minute I mention an English tradition, there will be hackles going up. It seems almost impossible to mention without anxiety. Will people think I am a racist? Will I be bracketed along with the tweeness of Evergreen Magazine, Ye Olde Teashoppes and endless reruns of Miss Marple? Will I be seen as an obscure collector of folklore obsessively slotting stories into the Aarne–Thompson classification system?

I hope not.

But what I am speaking up for is best expressed by this:

And we learn to be ashamed before we walk

Of the way we look and the way we talk.

Without our stories and our songs

How will we know where we’ve come from?

Show of Hands 'Roots'  - a deeply-felt and much loved song.

We need our traditions – how can you  riff on Jack and The Beanstalk if you don’t know the story in the first place? Ms J K Rowling would lose at least half the inhabitants of the Potterverse without our English traditions.

But there’s every need to avoid overzealous exactitude.

The thing I admired about the Askew Sisters was their reinvigoration of the music. Hazel played the melodeon with the heel of her hand at one point to give an otherworldly sound – not textbook, I suspect – but very effective. I loved The Warsaw Village Band’s punky polkas* ( also ChiFest and brilliant live) and what about the Imagined Village’s fantastic ‘Cold Haily Windy Night’  with Sheema Mukherjee on sitar and Johnny Khalsi on drums? The point is that folk music evolves, new elements come in and add life. Having a tradition doesn’t mean it has to be a form of taxidermy.

So where’s the relevance to writing?

Well, it can hardly be shared experience nowadays – not many pirate adventures like Henry Martin now – unless you’re Somali. But shared emotion – that’s where we meet. We may not have a lover on the deck of a sailing ship as in ‘The Turtledove’ or ‘If I were a Blackbird’ – but we know what it is to miss someone.

Writers convey the feelings of characters in situations they have never experienced and readers imagine them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a ballad or a book – and the English tradition has plenty of passion in it yet.

[*Yes, I know they’re Polish – but the point about reinventing your tradition is still true.]

Reading matters

Reading brings delight.

  • Reading matters because it opens the doors of imagination. You can escape into another world with the most amazing views and adventures – then return whenever you want. Michael Morpurgo can bring you pets to keep without any complaints.
  • Reading matters because it stretches your brain. You can learn new words, new concepts, new methods – and then baffle your friends.
  • Reading matters because it deepens your compassion. You are able to walk in another person’s shoes, you can share their hopes and dreams, understands their fears and sorrows – think of Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story and Meg Rossof’s What I Was.
  • Reading matters because it connects you to writers past and present, near and far. Laugh with Wodehouse and Philip Ardagh, shudder with Bram Stoker, Sarwat Chadda  and Jon Mayhew, wonder with Kathryn Langrish and Sitoshi Kitamura.
  • Reading matters because it takes you to new places and cultures. You could climb Everest in a wheelchair; then dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench; learn about Dunbi the Owl from the Worora people or celebrate The Day of the Dead in Mexico.
  • Reading matters because it takes you to ancient realms and possible futures. Fancy meeting Queen Hapshetsut and her beard, attending the Court of The First Emperor of China, designing your own vehicles ?
  • Reading maters because it’s funhow else can you enjoy the cracker jokes!

If  you feel as strongly about this as I do you might  want to blog and tweet about the decision, using #bookgifting and @booktrust and @savebookstart.

Please support Booktrust . Perhaps you might email Booktrust on  offering support. You could write to Mr Gove and to your local MP. Michael Gove changed his mind about school sport funding.

Read Keren David’s blog for an impassionerd article on this subject too.

Brand New

or How to Get Noticed.

“…a prepossessing personality in an author is a great asset… “How to Get An Agent” by Philippa Milnes-Smith in  2010 A& C Black.

OK seems a good idea. I’d better get one. Let’s start off with interesting interests.

  1. Take up Belly Dancing like the  lovely Kathryn Evans. I suspect in my case the video would make people think of school blancmange and the little ditty beginning ‘Jelly on the plate…”
  2. Develop a musical talent – pace Jon Mayhew and his mandolin. I’m not sure three notes on the descant recorder’s really going to hack it on YouTube.
  3. Get clever with a puppet. Oh to work with the wonderful Woofy like Sue Eves. My poor old teddy has a squished nose where I used to stand on him to get at the book shelves. I don’t think he’s up to it.

Righto – how about developing a distinctive appearance?

  1. Grow a splendiferous beard like the lovely Mr Philip Ardagh. I do have the precedent of a fine hirsute lady relative but I lack the gravitas to pull it off, I fear.
  2. Sport magnificent and intriguing tattoos such as embellish Saviour Pirotta. Perhaps not. I never even liked peeling off the backing on the transfers as a child  – and it took me till I was 21 to get my ears pierced. Once.
  3. Become an all-round style icon like Sarah McIntyre of the Funky Glasses. Touch tricky for an unconstructed hippy, although I am quite good at dressing up. That’s if you count making a small tot cry when dressed up as a witch or having my picture labelled as a hobbit in the local paper when I thought I was Arwen Evenstar.

What about me? Perhaps I need to have a remarkable background.

  1.  Start at an interesting point in your life. Catherine Webb was only14 when first published ( I’m not sure that the ‘A Wet Windy Day in Wakefield’ featured in the Wakefield Express at 11 counts) and Mary Wesley started at 71.  I am 49 – ‘neither nowt nor summat ‘- as they say where I come from.
  2. Come from an intriguing culture. Candy Gourlay, that  fascinating Filipina, uses hers wonderfully in’ Tall Story’. Miriam Halahmy (what a cool name) has an Iraqi husband and all manner of family to call upon. Me – Wakefield in the Rhubarb Triangle of Yorkshire. Not the same, is it?

Oh dear. Perhaps I could hide behind other enticements?

  1. Bring out marketing goodies – let me see – a plush cuddly Giant Moray Eel? A wind-up Dave the Disastrous Diver: guaranteed to ruin any bathtime? Model of the Sinai Emperor – watch as it breaks up and sinks! Just not going to go with a Happy Meal.
  2. Feature really cool concepts. Oh dear,  I can’t nick off with  Sarwat Chadda’s kick-ass heroines and Templars or Nick Cross’s zombies. They wouldn’t all fit on my dive boat. Certainly not together.
  3. Promote Important Messages. Somehow “Don’t steal Ancient Egyptian artefacts, it will all end in tears” hasn’t got the moral integrityand pithyness of say The Lorax. Maybe ‘Be nice to fishes’. I could wear a badge. A very big badge.

I give up. I’ll just have to take a leaf out of all these brilliant people’s books  – and just write really, really well. And be myself.