Guest post: The moving memoir of a despatch rider on the Western Front

AES 1917 001Today I am lucky enough to have another fascinating guest post on No Wriggling – this time by family historian and writer David Venner, who I met after the publication of my own book, Shell Shocked Britain. Here he writes movingly of his own family experiences in the Great War, and tells us more about his great-uncle Albert Simpkin, a despatch rider and the subject of a book David will see published by Pen & Sword in the spring. 

As I write, many of the leaves on the hazel outside my window have fallen and lie scattered on the ground. In time they will decompose or get dragged below the surface by earthworms.  Other leaves remain on the tree but they have changed – from the fresh green of the spring to a faded autumnal yellow: a metaphor, perhaps, for the men who fought on the First World War battlefields. Many of them fell and lay scattered on the surface or were swallowed up, unrecognisably, by the mud. The men that survived and returned from the war were changed, some in obvious, physical ways, others with mental scars that may or not have been apparent to the observer.  A lot of them of course were damaged both physically and mentally.  Their families and the wider community were deeply and irreversibly affected too, as Suzie conveys in her thoroughly researched and well-written book, Shell Shocked Britain.

My great uncle Albert Simpkin was one of the lucky ones who survived the war. Suzie’s book has started me thinking about how his experiences might have changed him. I knew him as an old man, but as he only married into my mother’s family when aged 40, his early life and character are not easily pieced together.

AES 1914 001
Albert in 1914

He was born in 1885, the eldest child of a Salford printer and his wife. When he was 12 his mother died at the birth of a fourth child, a traumatic experience for Albert and the rest of the family. His father soon re-married and Albert apparently did not take to his step-mother – a further source of emotional stress at a sensitive age. At the 1901 census there were two young half-brothers as well as the three siblings from the first marriage. It is perhaps not surprising that, on leaving school and being apprenticed to a Salford engineering firm, Albert moved out of the family home. He lived in digs with two other young men and a landlady who, according to family stories, treated him in a much more kindly way than his stepmother did.

Albert was almost 30 when he joined up, so was not as unworldly as many of the volunteer soldiers were. His teenage traumas, work experiences and early move to independent living probably resulted in a marked degree of resilience and maturity in his approach to life. He seems to have been a natural leader, as quite early in his army training he gained a promotion to become sergeant of his section.

We can gain some further insights into his character from a very detailed diary that Albert wrote of his war service. He was a motorcycle despatch rider with the 37th Division HQ on the Western Front and so had a wide-ranging role and view of the action. He saw some horrific sights, which he records, often with a comment on his reaction:

‘Higher up the trench I came across the body of one of our men badly mutilated, one of his arms had been blown off and half of his face was missing.  The front of his tunic was shredded like wool and the ammunition in his pouches had exploded. A pretty ghastly sight but it raised no more feeling in me than one feels in a butcher’s shop.  War brings one down to the level of animals.’

He endured some atrocious conditions, spending two winters in the Ypres area and another on the Somme:

‘We are having wretched weather, raining every day … After an hour’s riding we are plastered with mud from head to foot and the only way to clean oneself is to wash down with buckets of water.’ 

‘The snow is melting rapidly and everywhere is deep in mud.  I do not know which is the greater evil, snow or mud.  Snow turns to water but mud sticks closer that a brother.’

The places in which he was billeted were often far from healthy:

‘Last night we slept in a barn … The place was alive with rats which ran over our bodies and sniffed inquisitively in our faces.  One of the fellows awoke with a yell, a rat had bitten his ear.’

‘I examined the bed I have been sleeping in and found every known species of vermin, bed bugs, lice and some I was unable to christen.  I straightaway got leave from the OC to go and get a bath after which I changed all my underclothes.’

Yet he found leave-taking a depressing time:

‘The time hung very heavily, everyone cheerful but a trifle forced. I was glad when it was time to go back to France’.

He seems to have had a well-developed sense of morality and equality. For example, he was very critical of the preferential treatment of officers:

‘Sometimes when we have money we go to Bailleul for a feed but all the best places are reserved for officers, which greatly annoyed us until we found a place of our own. Even the ‘pip squeaks’, who a year or two ago were wiping their snotty little noses on their cuffs for want of a handkerchief, may enter, while the highest NCO may not. This childish snobbery of the old army sickens me.’

Despite this critical view of the officer class, his commanding officer gave him a glowing reference on demobilisation:

‘Sgt Simpkin has discharged the duties of NCO in charge motorcycles and despatch riders

in the Company with marked success. Energetic, keen and reliable in all his work. Exceptionally good disciplinarian and leader of men.  Marked organising ability. Throughout his four years of active service he has set a splendid example of personal gallantry which has greatly influenced the personnel under his command.’

AES 1950s 001
Albert in the 1950s

Albert returned to his old job with Crossley Brothers and was chief engineer by the mid-1920s. He married and shortly afterward was sent to Argentina to set up a branch of the company in Buenos Aires.  He and his wife visited England every two or three years, staying with my family on our farm in Somerset.  In between these visits he wrote to me – long, wonderfully informative letters – with descriptions of Argentine wildlife, farming, local customs and events, and he was always interested to know about our lives in England.  He was like a substitute grandfather to me: both of my grandfathers had died before I was born. Having no family, Albert and his wife Lily made as much fuss of my brother and me as if we were their own grandchildren.

Albert never spoke of the war and at the time I never thought to ask him about it. In any case it is most unlikely that he would have wanted to talk about his experiences with a young boy – I was only 15 when he died. I would have loved to have heard how he won his Military Medal and what he did to earn the commendation “for bravery in the field”.

It is hard, thinking back to the visits to our farm and when re-reading his letters, to find any evidence of the effects of his war experiences. As an old man he walked with a limp which could have been the result of a war injury; in his diary he mentions being slightly wounded in the leg. Mentally, he never showed (or was very careful to conceal) any signs of depression, anxiety or sadness.  On the contrary, I remember him as a jolly, generous and gregarious man, with a twinkle in his eye and a vitality which belied his age. It was as if he was determined to make the most of a life that was spared when so many of his contemporaries were not so fortunate.

Despatch riderAn abridged version of Albert Simpkin’s diary is due to be published in April 2015 by Pen and Sword Books, under the title Despatch Rider on the Western Front 1915-18.

 After graduating from Edinburgh University, David Venner had a career in countryside management. He is now a family history advisor in North Devon where he also practises rural crafts. You can follow him on Twitter: @davidvenner4,  and on the diary website:

www.despatch-rider-on-the-western-front.co.uk

The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur – author Gill Hoffs on how Victorian corsetry contributed to a tragedy…

Sinking of RMS Tayleur - Gill Hoffs - hi res imageI have been really lucky with the books I have been asked to review in recent weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed The Real Sherlock Holmes by Angela Buckley and now can honestly say I have spent three sunny days gripped by “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic‘” by Gill Hoffs. (Pen & Sword, 2014) I can heartily recommend it for the detailed research Gill has done into the Victorian period,  combined with her skills as a true storyteller. It is a tragic tale, beautifully told, with a respect for the victims that doesn’t preclude a thrilling description of a horrific shipwreck.

So I am delighted to host a guest post from Gill on my blog today. As she researched the book, Gill was curious to find out why only three women and three children survived out of over 170 while more than half of the men on board managed to escape the sinking ship. Here she interviews one of the many people who helped her research 

Jennifer Garside
Jennifer Garside

When researching a particular period or person, it can be useful to find someone who’s essentially carried out the work for you in advance and has a passion for the subject. I needed to know about British clothing in the 1850s, and why the fashions of the day contributed to the deaths of at least a hundred women in one shipwreck alone. Luckily Jennifer Garside, a motorbike-riding, corset-wearing, broadsword-fighting businesswoman, runs Wyte Phantom Corsetry and Clothing (specialising in neo-Victorian designs) and agreed to help. Jennifer demonstrated to me using samples, contemporary accounts and illustrations, how heavy and restrictive the women’s outfits would have been on board the Tayleur, and how that influenced their survival when the ship wrecked. As is often the way, each answer led to yet more questions, including some about Jennifer herself.

What came first for you: the interest in sewing, history, or re-enactments? How did you get into re-enactments and corsetry?

I was always crafty as a child, my mother taught me to sew and use a sewing machine, and as far as I can remember I had a fascination with pretty historical dresses. My grandmother had a button tin with pictures of Victorian ladies round the outside; I loved to play with it both for the images on the tin and the amazing buttons inside. Re-enactment came later; it wasn’t until I was at university that I discovered a group and found it was something I could actually get involved in.

I blame my parents for the re-enactments. As a child, I loved to explore castles, and they took me to see a joust when I was about 8, and I decided I wanted to have a go! At University, I found both a re-enactment group, and a HEMA group (Historic European Martial Arts) and started to study swordsmanship. The corsetry was probably born out of my love of the beautiful hourglass Victorian dresses. I have always been small, but when I was about 18-20, I had a very boyish figure not the curves I wanted. I discovered corsetry and as I was a student and couldn’t afford to buy a good corset, thought I would try making them. It took a long time to teach myself as there weren’t the resources there are available now.

How do you source vintage designs?

Fashions of 1854
Fashions of 1854

There are a lot of good resources now for vintage patterning, you can still get hold of original patterns from the 1900s (I have some amazing 40s and 50s patterns that I picked up from ebay and junk shops!), as you get earlier, there are reprints of Victorian and Edwardian patterns from magazines that are reasonably easy to get hold of and lots of books available detailing construction. The earlier you get, the harder it is to find original material to study, but by studying pictures and the material that is available, it is possible to work out how these pieces were probably made. Where possible though, the best way I find to learn is to look at extant garments, most museums have the facility to let you study pieces in their collection if you contact them, and there is so much more you can learn by looking at something in person than by looking at a photo.

What are the hazards of your work?

CAD – Cat assisted design. My ginger mog has an annoying tendency to try to get involved at the most awkward times! Also, most of my work is carried out on a 1930’s Singer sewing machine that will sew through just about anything, including fingers as I have learnt the hard way.

Do you find you notice costuming over story and acting in period dramas?

Yes and no, if the story is good and I can lose myself in it, then I can forgive most things other than the totally glaringly obvious, but I will often find once I have noticed something I can’t concentrate on the plot as the error keeps niggling at me!

What is the one key issue you think researchers need to bear in mind when thinking about clothing in the past?

I think you have to understand somewhat the culture, mindset and conditions people were living in. It is only relatively recently that we have had mass production and global communication, therefore in the past although there would be fashions, there would be a lot more geographical variation in styles and each garment would be individually made. Clothes in any period of history say something about the wearer, be that status, profession or any of a myriad of other things.

How has engaging in broadsword fighting and similar activities improved your understanding of the practical requirements of outfits throughout history?

It’s not just the fighting, by wearing the clothes of a certain period you get a better understanding of how a person could move and how they would stand or sit. This may seem unimportant, but if you want to really understand the past I think this really gives you an insight. A simple example would be the footwork when learning to use the smallsword, the weapon itself looks similar to a modern fencing blade, but looking at the original treatises the steps and lunges tend to be much smaller than in modern fencing, you discover the probable reason why when you try fencing in period footwear with smooth leather soles!

Who are your favourite female fighters?

Jennifer Garside 2This is a difficult one too. All throughout history there are examples of often unnamed women fighting alongside their male counterparts, normally only uncovered as women after death or injury. I could list hundreds of inspirational female fighters, but I’ll limit myself to two from two historical extremes. The earliest known European fencing treatise is Royal Armouries MS.I.33 or the Tower Manuscript, this dates from about 1300 and shows a system of combat with sword and buckler (a small round shield). In the latter part of the manuscript, in place of one of the two male figures we see earlier in the text, we have a female figure referred to as Walpurgis. While there is still debate as to why a female figure is used in the text, I feel that her presence maybe indicates that females fighting wasn’t such an unusual occurrence as we might otherwise believe. Travelling forwards 600 years we have Edith Garrud, trained in Bartitsu (probably one of the first ‘mixed martial arts’), she in turn trained The Bodyguard, a group of about 25 women whose task it was to keep the leaders of the militant Suffragette movement out of the hands of the police. She is immortalised in a lovely 1910 Punch cartoon showing her fighting off a group of policemen.

Thank you for all your help with my research, and for sharing so much information about your enviable life!

And thank you Gill – it is a great book and I hope to be there at one of your entertaining talks before too long!

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: the Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ (Pen and Sword, 2014), is out now – see http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/ for further details. Contact Gill at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, @GillHoffs or through http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com.
For more information about Wyte Phantom Corsetry and Clothing, visit http://www.rosenkavalier.co.uk/wytephantom/wytephantom4.htm, call 0774 686 4354, or email wyte_phantom@hotmail.com.

 

Talking Books goes walkabout with The Real Sherlock Holmes…..

A13cI-0avRL._SL1500_Talking Books, my show on 10Radio.org,  went national last week when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Angela Buckley’s great new book ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada‘. The launch took place in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street in the heart of London and Angela was good enough to allow me to wander around the room with my radio mike, John Motson style, putting her many guests on the spot, and grabbing some great interviews.

‘The Real Sherlock Holmes’ is wonderful ride through crime fighting in Victorian Manchester. Jerome Caminada was not the dashing and flawed character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels but he was a resourceful and committed ‘super sleuth’ in his own right, utilising all manner of disguises and subterfuge to solve the many high-profile cases that made him a national figure in the late 19th century. More recently overshadowed by his fictional contemporary, Angela has brought him to the fore once more in a book that takes you through the poverty-stricken streets of Manchester, and further afield, on Caminada’s coat tails. One can only admire the audacity of his methods; disguises, undercover operations (including the duping and schmoozing of domestic servants) and determined chases that brought some remarkable criminals to justice. He even had his own equivalent of Moriarty, a criminal who threatened to be his nemesis.

mcGHow marvellous it would be to see him on-screen, perhaps interacting with Holmes and Watson. I have been thinking about who might play the role of Jerome, a more solid and less flamboyant man than Holmes but just as dashing. Aiming for big box office – how about George Clooney, Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman? All look good with a beard after all. If Paddy Consadine hadn’t already played the eponymous Mr Whicher, of Suspicions of fame I would suggest him. But I am nominating Ewen McGregor. About the right age with just the right about of gravitas. Find his agent’s details Angela!

download (1)Anyway, do listen to the recording of the event below. It was great fun and you will hear snippets from writers and historians Emma Jolly and Rosemary Morgan, Essie Fox, Kate Mayfield and Mel Backe Hansen as well as the lovely Rachel Hale, author of the fabulous History Magpie blog and Angela’s writing buddy who came along with her husband Steve who is an accountant and a jolly good sport. I was determined to find out who was the on-screen favourite Sherlock Homes. I think Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch will have to settle for a draw. Angela and I had a good long chat about Jerome and I also got a great interview with Nick Barratt of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’  fame, who, it appears, also has a great-uncle of dubious fame…..

Angela’s children Ella and Ethan were stars. I was quickly reminded by Ethan that the Buckley household never ran out of cornflakes whilst Angela was writing because they ‘only have Shreddies’. One day he will be a challenge for Paxman…….

So grab a copy of Angela’s book and enjoy. It is published by Pen & Sword History (Angela and I share a lovely editor, Jen Newby) and is selling like the proverbial. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to piggy back her launch to cut my outside broadcast teeth. I had a great time and as you can tell from the recording, so did everyone else there.

angelaThe Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

Talking Books talks Septimus Heap & writing magic with Angie Sage

Septimus_Heap_-_All_Seven_CoversOn the 28th February I was very lucky to have as my guest on Talking Books Angie Sage, an author who has received global success with her series of fantasy novels, featuring Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son with magical powers. Starting with Magyk and ending with the seventh book, Fyre, we gallop through the adventures of Septimus and his friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is another Harry Potter wizard-alike however. Septimus is funnier, more intelligent and supported by a cast of characters that can keep anyone aged seven to seventy plus interested and amused.

Angie is also a really inspirational and creative writer, and illustrator, who lives in a fifteenth century house in Somerset that exudes its own mystery and magic, including as it does an old mural that purports to be of Henry VIII, but turns out to have something of the devil in it…

So after rather too many ‘umms’ at the beginning (on my part) we had a wonderful chat; the thirty minutes flew by and I wished I had read more of her work before we met. However, Angie agreed to read a passage from one of the books in the series, which as you can hear on the link below, had us all chuckling. There are ghosts, witches, dragons and human interest aplenty. Yes – even wizards can fall in love and as J.K. Rowling discovered, young readers growing up with their characters long to know who has paired up with whom. We talk about this, along with the joys of writing and developing characters and stories over a long series of books, the ‘Harry Potter’ effect and the pitfalls associated with selling film rights to Warner Brothers. Angie is a hugely successful writer, selling in numbers beyond the hopes of most writing fiction today, but that doesn’t mean a writing life is without complications.

Good news for Septimus lovers is the planned trilogy, TodHunter Moon, which takes up the story seven years on. Readers  just can’t get enough of the stories and Angie just doesn’t want to leave the world of Magyk….

But back to Septimus. I was given a wonderful copy of the last in the series, Fyre, by Angie after the show and I will treasure it. I just wish my children were still of an age to enjoy them. They will have to come back to them with their own children, should they change their minds and have them….

Rattling the Bones of Detective Caminada

Jerome Caminada
Jerome Caminada from The Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Guest Blogger Angela Buckley, whose new book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada will have its official launch in London next week. She has taken time out on a hectic blog tour to tell us here of a dilemma many of us, as researchers, face – how to ensure we deal with the stories of the dead in a sensitive fashion and why she believes Detective Caminada’s story must be told.

The first time I visited the grave of Jerome Caminada in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, I had mixed emotions. I was excited at the prospect of uncovering the story of this exceptional detective, which had remained hidden for almost a century, but at the same time I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Is it fair to rattle bones that have been long since buried and bring the dead back to life?

Jerome Caminada was born in Manchester in 1844 to immigrant parents. A child of the slums, he overcame staggering odds to become one of the city’s finest police officers, reaching the lofty heights of Detective Superintendent. He was an extraordinary man: a fearsome law enforcer who was never afraid to tackle the most daring and desperate of criminals, but also a man with a compassion for others and a deep sense of social justice. I began my journey into his past with his memoirs, published at the end of his 30-year-long career.

Nineteenth century police memoirs are essentially work histories, rather than accounts of domestic life, and Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life by Jerome Caminada is no exception. In this weighty tome, he recounts ‘over fifty stories, dealing with all manner of crime and criminals’. I used contemporary newspapers and court records to reconstruct his cases, and although the accounts often differed, I was able to re-discover his adventures as he tackled thieves, pickpockets, cunning swindlers and even cold-blooded murderers, on the streets of his city. But it wasn’t until I dug deeper into his personal circumstances that I really began to bring Detective Caminada truly back to life.

SlumsJerome’s parents were Francis and Mary Caminada. His father was a cabinetmaker of Italian descent and his mother was an illiterate textiles worker, with her roots in Ireland. Both families had been among the masses of workers who had migrated into the city of Manchester in the wake of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century. Their meagre existence was totally precarious and when Jerome was just three years old, his father died of heart disease, leaving his mother alone with the surviving four of her six children. There was still worse to come and the family was forced to move into one of the worst rookeries in Victorian Manchester, later described by Jerome as ‘a very hot-bed of social iniquity and vice’. It was in these crime-infested streets that Detective Caminada developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the shady characters and nefarious criminals who lived there, which would become one of his most effective weapons in fighting crime.

GraveThe terrible suffering of his family, who experienced further devastating losses and grinding poverty, instilled in Jerome great empathy for others and kindness to those less fortunate than himself. Throughout his career, he never failed to help individuals in genuine need and to plead their cause, whatever they had done. His faith and hope in humanity kept him going in the most difficult of circumstances, in both his professional and personal life. It has been a challenge to bring Detective Caminada back to life but now that his story is ready to be heard once again after a century of silence, I am proud to have rattled his bones!

angelaMy sincere thanks to Angela. The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

Talking Books on why we should all want ‘Little Creative Days’ for our children

What are seasons but children’s soft dreams, and
Sunrise, their opening eyes?
Seeing at a glance
The days and years open…waiting,
Fringed with softness, or
Laced with abandon…

(From Children’s Eyes and Children’s Toys by Elysabeth Faslund)

The incredible Pojo
The incredible Pojo

This is SO late going up but I thought it important to make sure you got the opportunity to listen to my Talking Books show on 10Radio.org from February 14th. It wasn’t a ‘Valentine’s Day’ themed show – I have featured poetry and prose that expresses our romantic yearnings on past shows – but it was one that should be of interest to anyone with children, or who is involved with children’s education. I started this post with an excerpt from a poem that sums up for me how important it is to see the world through a child’s eyes and to give them the tools to make the most of a time when their imagination should be allowed to fly.

Tonya Meers kindly came in to the studio to talk about the business she has established with her sister, Natasha Dennis. Little Creative Days started with the provision of craft kits for children, but when Tonya decided she would like to write children’s stories the sisters decided to combine the two. Between them I think they have come up with something that can really bring out the creative side of all children and perhaps inspire them to be the writers, dramatists, artists and even theatre impresarios (well let’s think big!) of the future. Working with and in schools they have developed kits that work across the curriculum; Pojo and the Chest of Dreams for example can support work in geography and Pojo Saves the Rainforest uses puppets to tell children about the impact of deforestation.

This isn’t a sponsored post, or a review of the products Tonya and Natasha offer but it is something of a plug for anything that fires a child’s imagination and after this show you will be in little doubt that Tonya’s stories, and the opportunities the kits offer to children as part of their primary school education, are exactly the sort of thing to engage children across ages and abilities.

When my children were much younger they both had issues with certain aspects of their school day. My son would daydream and lose concentration; my daughter is dyslexic and found phonics a real challenge. They both found an outlet in performance – my son in drama and my daughter in sport – and finding a way to express their true selves, away from the challenge of tests and league tables proved invaluable.

Creative storytelling uses ‘creative group activities to bring stories alive’ and in our interview Tonya describes how puppet making for example can  enable all children to explore a story and become engaged with the story and its message. The drama activities can build confidence and offer children a way to express themselves in their own stories. Do take a listen; I am sure you will be as inspired as I was by Tonya’s enthusiasm and by the Little Creative Days ethos.

Find out more by going to the Little Creative Days website at www.littlecreativedays.co.uk

In which Talking Books is ‘Blessed by Magpies’, and poet Paul Tobin

blessed by magpiesIt has taken me a little while to post up my last Talking Books show. There are no excuses other than a few pressing deadlines and much time taken up with experimentation with a new way to manage my time…..

Anyway, the show on 31st January was a terrific one. I was joined by poet and author Paul Tobin who shared his love of the written, and spoken, word with me. Paul grew up in Widnes in the 60′s and has lived in Somerset for over thirty years. His poetry draws from his childhood in the north and he reads aloud with an intensity that picks you up and takes you into the world he is describing. He read two of his poems on the show – do listen and let me know what you think. We talked of many things but not least the impact of reading poetry aloud, the importance of revision and the poet’s ability to distil an experience and make it real for others.

Paul is frequently found reading from his work at festivals and is a member of the Juncture 25 group of writers and although he was quick to correct me – he would not describe himself as a performance poet by any means – if you see his name on the bill do join the audience if you can. Another member of the Juncture 25 group. Paul Mortimer, was on my show last year and remembering the other Paul’s poems I can sense a certain comradeship in their work.

Paul Tobin’s most recent book of poetry is called Blessed by Magpies, a bird with whom he feels a spiritual connection. He has given me a copy, which I shall enjoy reading. But I read his blog before the radio show and one poem on there struck me – I hope Paul doesn’t mind my copying it here..

In the pub with my mate Jon
In the pub with my mate Jon,
Drinking red wine and soda.
Overhearing the biased tones
Of three armchair soldiers,
Discuss the merits of each
Gun, bomb and plane.
Laughing at the enemy,
Mispronouncing every name.
My drink seems blood,
Bubbles burst and ripple,
There is no talk of brotherhood,
Only of the dead and crippled
 

Do go to his blog –magpiebridge.blogspot.co.uk to find more fascinating stories and images – he peppers his writing with intriguing photography. He has also written a steampunk novel, The Jowler, which is available from Amazon. Paul also drew the winner of the competition Martine Lillycrop set last week – the answer to which was Bladerunner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. He also set a question of his own, but really it is a matter of names in the hat so to enter, just comment below with your own favourite contemporary poem…. The winner will be drawn on my show on the 28th February and the winner will receive a signed copy of Blessed by Magpies.

And listen to the show on the link below. I think you will enjoy it.

Poetry Please! – Paul Mortimer guests on Talking Books, with Yeats, Keats, Duffy et al

world-poetry-day4Well, no surprises – my most recent Talking Books show on 10Radio was one of my favourites. For a change, I hosted a poetry request show, with Devon poet Paul Mortimer who read his own work and poems that listeners, Facebook and Twitter friends and others asked for. Roger McGough presents a wonderful programme on Radio Four that I wish I could even vaguely emulate, but the pleasure that this show gave me was immense, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Paul read his own work –

Sheep spine

Storm rider

You can read more of his work on his blog at Welshstream. I heartily recommend it. Paul is inspired by landscape, both rural and urban and also uses photography to reflect his work. Wonderful stuff.

The requested poems included :

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats (read by Anthony Hopkins)

Words wide night, by Carol Ann Duffy

Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

Do not stand at my grave and weep – Mary Elizabeth Frye

To Autumn by John Keats (read by Ben Whishaw)

Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The wild swans at Coole – by W. B Yeats

As our bloods separate by David Constantine

You can hear the whole show here (the photo is of Paul…):

Do take a listen. We talk much of landscape and how it can affect our emotions; of Roger Deakin and Robert McFarlane and of our love of poetry in general. Many people say ‘I don’t ‘get’ poetry’ or acknowledge they love just one poem – perhaps because it has been read in a favourite film, or at a wedding or funeral. But there is, genuinely, poetry for everyone – it might just take a little time to find a poet you can relate to.

Keep trying – read some poetry, please!

Talking Books talks Broken Dreams & Bottom Lines – Darel Pace on life & writing

BD&BLMost people who know me would not expect me to read a ‘chick-lit’ novel for fun. It has been mentioned to me that if I read light-hearted books I would be less prone to depression, but quite apart from the lack of insight that statement contains I think prolonged exposure to some of the stuff out there on Kindle would have the opposite effect.

So when Somerset author Darel Pace agreed to come on my 10Radio show Talking Books to discuss her book Broken Dreams and Bottom Lines, I was a bit worried that I might not be able to talk to her about her book honestly, in case it was one of those frothy stories where the last chapter is predictable having read the first and the author might as well not have bothered with the intervening 50,000 words. Thankfully, Broken Dreams is not like that at all. In fact it is a joyously sweary, genre-subverting and funny book that Darel has made sure gets as much exposure as possible on Kindle – to the point where it has spent some time in international best-seller lists.

The lead character, Liss Birling, is someone who wants to believe that a woman can have it all, but her life isn’t really turning out that way and circumstances constantly remind her that she is more or less muddling through. Single parenthood; the ‘modern woman’; the test of career, children and happy marriage as all that matters; it is a book that Darel makes sure really doesn’t fit the usual chick-lit template. She wanted to be more ‘real’, more like the truth of life for many young women in modern Britain. A storyteller at heart, it is clear that Darel has fun with her writing, although as you will hear in the interview below – it has been really hard work to get the book ‘out there’. She combines her writing with her job as a teacher and has found her students, their parents and her colleagues supportive (despite the rude words!).

There really isn’t any way I am going to be reading chick-lit by the bookcase load. It really isn’t me. My ‘light’ reading is generally a crime novel – a cosy whodunnit. But if it is something you enjoy, especially if you are a fan of Sex and the City for example, take a look at Broken Dreams and Bottom Lines. Darel was a great guest and I wish her luck should someone buy the film rights. Melissa McCarthy should be waiting for the script….

Broken Dreams and Bottom Lines is available on Amazon Kindle for the special price of 99p for September. Darel also has a successful blog at http://darels-world.blogspot.co.uk/

Votes for Women! The Bristol Suffragettes on Talking Books

BristolsuffragettesOn last Friday’s Talking Books – my radio show on 10Radio.org -I interviewed writer Lucienne Boyce, who has recently published a wonderful book called The Bristol Suffragettes, the story of the women who took the fight for ‘votes for all ‘ to the streets of Bristol in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many of us (myself included) have a narrow view of who the suffragettes were, what they stood for and how they took militant and direct action to the top of government. On Friday I learned how women in the South West of England made a real difference to the overall battle and how their determination took them to rallies and marches; how they felt forced to break windows and start fires; of their confidence to heckle politicians and, ultimately, their ability to endure prison (and force feeding) to keep the fight for votes for women at the forefront of the public mind.

Having read Lucienne’s book I am impressed most particularly by three things:

1. The amount of research that has gone into a book that is both comprehensive and immensely readable. It would be a terrific resource for anyone studying the subject at any level. The general reader – especially if they know the Bristol area or are planning a visit – will enjoy the storytelling, the photographs (so well presented on top quality paper) and the guided walk included in the back, offering the opportunity to follow the suffragettes on a walk around the city.

2. The production values. As I say the photos are presented well and the text is clear and easy to read. So many history books don’t get that balance right, having all the photos in one place surrounded by pages of dense text.

3. How grateful we should be to those women prepared to stand up and fight for us all to have a say in how our country is run.  Lucienne has balanced what was, sometimes, criminal activity, with the necessary fight that women had to take to the male establishment. They were also faced with hostility from women who felt that the responsibility was too much to deal with on top of their child rearing and housekeeping responsibilities.

I heartily recommend this book, and when you listen to the broadcast below you will hear how passionate Lucienne is about the topic. I have had some great feedback about the programme: ‘fascinating’ ‘we must have more history programmes on Talking Books‘ ‘I never knew that!’ and most importantly, ‘how can I buy the book?’.

As mentioned on the programme I always suggest ordering it through your local bookshop and even though it is not yet listed you can get it through www.localbookshops.co.uk. If you absolutely must you can get it through Amazon too!

Lucienne Boyce also has her own website which offers more details about the book and her research and also tells you about her fiction writing.  Set in the 18th century, To the Fair Land was published in 2012 to great reviews. Described as a ‘gripping, thrilling’ mystery, Lucienne also talks about the inspiration for the book at the end of Talking Books.

So do take a listen to the show, it was one that I particularly enjoyed. It is a fascinating half hour and ends with a very stirring song….