Friday, 31 October 2014
Here's an announcement I've been looking forward to making!
The brilliant Bafflegab Productions are making a series of new audio adventures for Brenda and Effie, starting this December. Anne Reid is going to be our Brenda, and just wait till you hear her in action. There's a clip from the first mystery here, as well as the opportunity to subscribe to the series. I hope you will - and that you'll share the news about these new Brenda adventures far and wide! The more you support us in this, by buying and talking about them, the more we'll be able to do!
Thursday, 30 October 2014
I read an upsetting story this morning. An old friend had shared it on Facebook from a local newspaper. It was about a girl of eleven in a school down south, whose teacher had singled her out for disobeying a non-existent rule. The girl was made to feel exposed and ridiculed in front of her classmates.
The picture with the story showed the girl in a crazy acrylic wig of bright pinkish purple. She was smiling. She had the prematurely aged features that come with the disease that gives a child the face of someone at the end rather than the start of their life. These kids have a life expectancy of fifteen years. They get a quick burst of a life with none of the experience and less of the actual living than they might reasonably expect. The faces of these kids are often striking because although the actual flesh is wrinkling and aged, it is still animated and lit by their intrinsic youthfulness. They can seem elfin - especially when they're sporting bright pink wigs.
On top of everything else this girl had alopecia. Her family couldn't afford to buy her a wig made of human hair, that would perhaps look more natural and lifelike and less conspicuous. they couldn't afford to help her fit in. All they could get her was this fluorescent number, and it was this that her teacher made her take off in class.
And it wasn't because there was a rule about not wearing colourful wigs in school. Later, after the mother went to the paper, the School Head and the Head of Inclusion were keen to point out that no such rule existed. The problem was that the girl just turned up one day wearing the offending article, with no warning, when she had seemed okay in the past with an almost bald head. It was too conspicuous, was the problem. It stood out too much. She should have sought special permission, and perhaps found something more appropriate.
Her teacher felt that the pink wig might cause mayhem. It might encourage all the other children to run riot and start wearing extravagant wigs. It might drive all the incipient rebels to dye their hair unnatural hues. And then what kind of anarchy might break out?
So what if they did all have pink and purple hair? What would be wrong with that? The little girl's world - and our whole world - might be better off if her fellow pupils took it upon themselves to colour their hair or don wigs en masse in solidarity with the girl who'd chosen pink hair.
How wonderful it would be if - rather than panicking over procedures, non-existent rules and the counter-productive angsting of the school authorities - the teacher had let herself act with more compassion and humanity, and let the girl carry on flaunting her space age, disco, fairy tale hairdo? And wouldn't it have been just smashing if the teacher had turned up the next day in a flashy, glittering wig of her own?
When did we become so conformist? When did the paperwork and admin and ad hoc regulations become more important than the actual people? When did it become a terrible thing to have people standing out in a crowd? When did it stop being the job of educators to encourage us to explore our individuality and not be scared of it?
The girl in the story had no choice about standing out and being conspicuous. She was bravely making the best of it. At the tender, tiny age of eleven she was courageous enough to choose to sport a wig that was fabulous and glam and the very opposite of humdrum conformity.
I want to write to her school board of governors. I want to write to her teacher, her school head, her head of inclusion. I want to write to her family, her mother. Most of all I want to tell her that I hope she knows that, if she wants to wear her pink wig day and night and wherever the hell she wants to, no one has the right to tell her she can't.
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
After I wrote 'The Story of Fester Cat' I sent it to various people, before I even thought about sending it out to my agent or any publishers. I just wanted to know what people thought about it as a piece of writing.
It's only two weeks now till publication, so I thought I'd share with you some of the things that people - readers and writers - wrote to me when they read about Fester.
'Well, I don't know what to say. Apart from the fact that both the beginning and the end had me properly crying. Yet somehow you've avoided being maudlin or overly sentimental, and I don't know how you did that.
'Other than that, it's a brilliant story. I've read lots of cat books, but this is different. It isn't just Fester's story, it's yours and Jeremy's, too, and it's incredibly intimate…
'It's a privilege to have been let into your lives, the three of you. I wish I could be analytical about it, but I can't. I just love it.'
‘Personal… intimate, and funny (Aunt Bessy's hairy bollocks!) and sad - I cried at both Fester's garden and the image of him racing back to it, and again at the end - without ever being mawkish or sentimental (you skewer that right away with Fester's disdain for heavenly cat fiction)…
‘The experience of knowing an animal, and how that changes you, and the way you seek to understand its behaviour - and the voice you imagine for it - and the way you deal with its decline - these are themes/stories that lots of people understand, and can relate to.
‘I guess what I wasn't expecting to also have an insight to was the life you share with Jeremy, and I found that quite moving too (and perhaps a part of your life that you haven't really written about openly before?). I'm not sure I've read much fiction or memoir in general about two gay blokes in long-term relationship, and how that works, and what that means - the way we work out how to behave and live in the absence of children, and the rituals and stories we build for ourselves… There should be more of it out there.
‘As I say, I properly loved it.’
‘Thank you so much for sharing the story of your family. It made me laugh, made me cry and made me think.
‘I'm only sorry that I never got the chance to meet Fester as I think we would have been good friends.
‘As your story says, you, Jeremy and Fester were all meant to find each other and you did. What a gift.’
'A sweet, moving and heartfelt memoir from a companion, philosopher and cool cat.'
'Oh, Paul, I loved it so much. It's warm, and funny, and sad, and human. It's full of such tiny details, set in such a small area, and yet those details and that smallness are what make it so profound because it's a book about big, enormous, messy love.
'I cried at the beginning, and at the end, and in the middle I laughed and soaked it all up. And I said before, I am NOT a cat book person, but this was so full of emotion, and even though you say it poured out of you, it's so cleverly written and well structured.
'Anyway, it sounds like it is the book you needed to write, and you've poured all of your emotion into it, your love for Fester and Jeremy and your home. I knew you already, of course, but now I feel like I've spent several days living in your house with the three of you (and Bessy occasionally) and this is exactly the way a reader should feel after finishing a book. Exactly. It's a beautiful story and I'm so glad you wrote it, for you, so you could capture it all. Just in itself, by being written, it's a triumph.
'But it also needs to be read by lots of people because they will also love it.'
- Julie Cohen
Monday, 13 October 2014
Among my earliest memories are ones of living in Peterlee, not long after Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion was built. We lived in one of the little box houses on the gently landscaped green slopes, quite near to this celebrated Modernist monument - (it's a one-ended bridge over a lake on an estate.) We revisited this weekend and the place still felt like somewhere magical and out of the future. My whole early life was lived amid concrete brutalism - in the estates of the north, and on university campuses outside Lancaster and Norwich. The Pavilion felt like the acme of brave late 60s adventurousness and invention, and I'm proud, in retrospect, to have spent that early part of my life there. I learned to read there - from the Ladybird fairy tale books my mam bought me each time we went to the corner shop (also a futuristic cube of a building.) It was fun to show Jeremy where we lived. Also, I like Victor Pasmore's abstract drawings.
Friday, 10 October 2014
Thursday, 9 October 2014
This is a really wonderful memoir - of reading, and of a son's relationship with his mother. When I was in Waterstones on Deansgate last friday it just fell off the shelf into my hand, and I'm so glad it did. I think sometimes books just come to us when we need them, and i think i needed to read this now. It's a lovely, warm meditation on how readers know that, when they read, they're taking part in the 'human conversation.' It's about how readers are never lonely, bored, or alone, and how they are always *included*. It's such a warm and loving book, too, and I've spent hours and hours with it in the past week - reading and rereading sections and whole paragraphs. I've read only a handful of the books that are mentioned and discussed, but that hardly matters - it's a book of introductions, to the books and to the remarkable people in the author's life - especially his mother, who is a wonderful presence throughout.
Anyway - it's my favourite book for ages (after weeks with the jazzed-up stodge of David Mitchell and the slow-mo murderers of Sarah Waters and Sophie Hannah's Christie pastiche) - go and find it: 'The End of Your Life Book Club' by Will Schwalbe.
Thursday, 4 September 2014
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This is masterly and moving. Again, listening to this on audio seemed to somehow add to the effect. Here is one confessional voice, delivering something between a family memoir and a scientific report. I won’t spoiler what makes the family at the heart of this novel unique, but I will say that the book is a heartbreaker. It makes you rethink what it means to be someone’s child or sibling, and what it means to be somebody’s responsibility, and how and why people might fail in that role.
The book moves so beautifully through various time frames, giving us the middle first and the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning. It is restless, intelligent and told in a jaded tone riven with pain. All the way through it has you hoping against hope that things will work out okay.
Straight to the top of the Magrs Top Ten Novels of 2014, I think.