A Childhood Rediscovery …

The Martin Pippin books by Eleanor Farjeon

Coincidence is a funny thing. I moved a pile of my old children’s paperbacks, and at the top of the stack I left was this book. Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field by Eleanor Farjeon. It sort of looked familiar, and when I opened it up and saw the coloured in pictures (I always added to the illustrations when I was a child!), it got a bit less vague. Then I read a little, and it took me back…

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Martin Pippin is a wondering minstrel, and one day he encounters six young girls who beg him to tell them stories…

Two were standing, two were stooping, two were sitting at their chain-making; and as they strung the daisy heads, they sang scraps and snatches of songs, no longer than a daisy-stalk…
Overhead the sky was going green, and the stars were making pin-pricks where the green was deepest, and the moon a yellow hole where it was palest, along the shoulder of Rackham Hill, and the dome of Amberley Mount. It was high time that the six little girls were in bed.
Martin thought so. And though he was afraid of nothing so much in the world as girls big and little, he made two strides across the boundless river, and stood in the daisy-field.

Martin Pippin 1SALLY: It’s him!
SYLVIA: What’s he come for?
SUE: To send us to bed, you know.
STELLA: I shan’t go.
SALLY: Let’s shut our eyes tight, so he’ll think we can’t hear him.
SOPHIE: I shall put my fingers in my ears.
STELLA: I shan’t. I just won’t go.
SELINA: I wonder why it’s so horrid going to bed, when it’s so nice being there.
SOPHIE: Oh it isn’t, S’lina. There’s nothing to do in bed, except go to sleep. …

They bicker some more until they realise Martin has come amongst them, whereupon they ‘shut their eyes tight, and put their fingers in their ears‘. They chat and Martin agrees to tell Sophie a story…  He tells each girl a story in turn – from the tale of Elsie Piddock who Skips in her Sleep, to the Mermaid of Rye who was born in a winkle.

Between each story is an interlude where he and the girls talk – sometimes in normal prose, sometimes as a script – just like above. The book is set in Sussex in and around the Long Man of Wilmington chalk hillside figure, who makes an appearance in one of them.  It is utterly charming – how could I have forgotten about this book? which I got or was given in 1969 – (I know that, I put the date on the inside cover, along with my full address – the one with the solar system etc.).  I shall have to make time to read the stories once again.

Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field was first published in 1937, some 26 years after Farjeon’s first book featuring the story-telling minstrel – Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard.  The first book of stories was not written for children, but a young soldier who had been a friend of Edward Thomas, like Farjeon herself.

The coincidence came when I looked up the books on Amazon to see if they are still available – and lo and behold, a new paperback edition is due out next week!  Better news still, Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard is available for download on Project Gutenberg (no illustrations though).

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Fieldby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback
Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchardby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback

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Ian McEwan at the Oxford Literary Festival

I come to you hotfoot from the Oxford Literary Festival where, in the domed confines of the Sheldonian Theatre, Ian McEwan was presented the Bodley Medal by Richard Ovenden the current Librarian of the Bodleian Library.  Before the presentation of the medal (which is made from copper from the old roof of the Bodleian, and has been awarded to around a dozen people so far including Hilary Mantel last year), the two sat in conversation.  McEwan was both witty and erudite, as was Ovenden and it made for a great event…

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Ovenden started off by asking McEwan about his writing process… firstly – the physicality of it.  McEwan said he was an early adopter of word processors – he likes the way they allow a ‘dynamic of constant revision’.  He sometimes writes trial paragraphs longhand and then tries them on the screen.

When quizzed about his writing environment and sharing his house with another writer, his wife, it’s one upstairs, one downstairs – but I can’t remember which way round.  He told us he had a marvellous piece of software called ‘Freedom’ – you set a time, and it blocks the internet for you!

Talking about the development of his novels, and the research that goes into them. McEwan said he has a ‘duty to some kind of truth’, to do the research properly.  For instance for Saturday, his most-researched novel, he shadowed a neurosurgeon for two years and got mistaken for a proper doctor by some students, so at home was he with the subject.

Going back, Ovenden asked him what got him on the literary path towards being a writer.  McEwan said it was whilst he was at Sussex university when he was about 20 that he discovered Kafka and Polish author Bruno Schulz. They seemed ‘off the planet’ and excited him enormously when he realised that literature was a conversation that anyone could join in.

The conversation moved on to screenplays – McEwan said they are ‘very much like novellas’ in the need to establish characters quickly, and having few sub-plots as they will only be around 100 pages long.  He described some of the ‘pleasure and anguish’ of working with others, and within the Hollywood system.  The screenwriter is very much a lowly position, the director has long been the auteur. He’s glad that there is much writer-led TV now, especially coming from Scandinavia.  Ovenden asked about Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Atonement.  McEwan felt he’d done an excellent job getting into his mind.  He praised Hampton and director Joe Wright, and the casting of Saoirse Ronan as Briony in particular.

Then we got onto the subject of McEwan’s new book, which he finished this week!  The Children Act – is a novel about a judge who is undergoing tough personal times, and the effects that a particular case is having on her.  Fiona, 59, is a judge in the family court and had to rule on a case involving the separation of Siamese twins.  To save one, the doctors had to kill the other, else they would both die within a few months. She overrules the family’s wishes to leave it to God, and rules for separation being the choice of the lesser evil, but as her own marriage is failing, she obsesses over the decision – the legal vs the moral vs the religious.

McEwan read a couple of passages from his manuscript – we were the first audience to hear any of it.  It sounds like vintage McEwan tackling big issues, with some visceral language highlighting the plight of the child in bad family break-ups, and then a passage about the twins.  Can’t wait for the book!

Then a few audience questions before the presentation.  The first questioner almost accused him of schadenfreude – being rather ‘chirpy’ when he read the extracts from his new novel – he was hamming them up a bit to inject some drama – this did make the book sound irresistible when it comes out. McEwan replied seriously, there was no intention of being chirpy!

Another question was about McEwan’s predilection for explosive plot devices, (which don’t happen in all his novels).  He replied ‘I quite like novels where something happens.’ He sometimes feels the need to put his characters through something extreme to see what happens to them,exploring  their different viewpoints and memories.  He has a strong belief in character.

After the presentation, McEwan moved over to the festival tent outside to sign books, but in the end I decided not to indulge – I own copies of most of his novels already, but it was also wet, and just about the Oxford rush-hour, so I opted to go straight home instead. He was an entertaining speaker, although this was one of the more expensive events at the festival, it was interesting to hear what makes one of the best modern British authors tick – I really should read more of those books!

 

What on earth is ‘Quantum Biology’?

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It was the second night of ATOM! Abingdon’s new science and technology festival last night, and off to Abingdon School for a lecture by renowned scientist Jim Al Khalili, who will be familiar to many for his programmes on BBC2/4 and his Radio 4 series The Life Scientific.

Jim’s day job is as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Surrey university, where one of the areas he is investigating is the new field of ‘Quantum Biology’.

To explain where QB comes from, he gave us a potted history of its development. It could have taken off in the 1930s but the leading chap was a Nazi, so it got subverted to the third Reich, and was ultimately buried as a subject for several decades.

What exactly is it though?  Because, as Jim said, ‘Down at the quantum level, things are very fuzzy.  ‘Quantumy.’ ‘ he said, waving his hands in the air and getting a laugh.  How did chemistry become biology? That’s the abiogenesis question (a new word for me that!).  Can quantum mechanics help to explain life?

He went on explain some of the key mechanisms that may be involved – quantum tunnelling (equivalent of going through walls), and quantum entanglement (where particles apart from each other have are linked somehow). He then went through some of the key areas in QB:

    • Enzyme action – confirmed in the 1980s
    • Photosynthesis – now established
    • Magnetoreception in birds – lots of work here
    • How we smell
    • DNA mutations (his particular area of interest).

Euro robinHe elaborated on magnetoreception in birds a bit because it’s a great story involving the European Robin which migrates from Sweden to Spain or northern Africa and really does fly south for winter, but is sensitive to the angle of inclination of the Earth’s magnetic field rather than the field polarity. This is all due to a particular frequency of blue light and signalling protein in their retinas.  The experimenters found this out by catching migrating robins and confounding them with different light frequencies and magnetic fields!

It was all fascinating, and given that the audience was from teenagers through to nuclear scientists, his explanations were both clear and interesting to everyone.  A lively Q&A session followed, led by Valerie Jamieson, features editor of New Scientist magazine, and Jim graciously signed books for all afterwards, (do excuse my slightly ‘fuzzy’ photo above!).

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Today I’m taking my daughter to the family science show ‘Visualise’, the closing event of the festival. It’s been a great success, and I sincerely hope it becomes an annual event. The organisers are hoping to set up an ATOM society – I’ve signed up!

Don’t expect many book review posts from me for a week or two. This week was Science Week. Next week sees my binge at the Oxford Literary Festival. I’m booked for events with Ian McEwan, Natalies Haynes and a quartet for women authors of historical novels for YA readers, led by Celia Rees for starters.  More reports to follow!

ATOM! Abingdon Festival of Science & Technology

diamond light

The Diamond Light Source

Our town of Abingdon-on-Thames is situated in one of the real science hubs of the UK. Apart from all the science faculties in Oxford to the north, just south of the town is the Harwell campus – home of the Diamond Light Source and the Rutherford Appleton Lab. To the SE is the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy home of JET – the Joint European Torus and other high-powered projects.  This is what Professor Frank Close told us on Thursday evening, introducing an evening of ‘Converscience’ the opening event of ATOM! held at my daughter’s school.

Frank_Close_2011Frank is a professor of particle physics at Oxford and the first ‘Converscience’ of the evening was with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnett FRS – the noted cosmologist who discovered pulsars in 1967, despite pirate radio stations broadcasting on the frequencies reserved for astronomical research!

Bell told us about how she made her discovery.  As a post-grad radio-astronomer, she had to analyse up to 96 feet of paper print-out every day, and after about 3 miles of paper, she gradually realised that there was a regular anomaly of interference.  She worked out the pulsing was occurring in sidereal time – so it couldn’t be man-made.  Her bosses took a lot of persuading – what if it were an alien transmission?  She christened it the LGM1 – Little Green Man 1. To her immense relief, she found a second pulsar (her ‘Eureka moment’) and then two further ones which finally proved to her bosses that they weren’t of alien origin. They in fact came from neutron stars, which had previously been theorised, but pulsars were completely new.

'Miss Jocelyn Bell', 1968However, when the discovery was published, her name wasn’t first on the paper, and she didn’t get the Nobel prize, her boss did.  Instead, she got the Sun headline ‘Girl discovers little green men’ – the media attention was intense and she said, ‘I felt like a piece of meat.’

When the converscience was thrown open to the audience, there were plenty of questions about women in science – apparently only 12% of astronomers are women in the UK, compared with over 30% in Argentina.  She made a plea for more women to study science, and for engineers in particular – the Higg’s Boson couldn’t have been discovered without the engineers who built the Large Hadron Collider.

We soon returned to pulsars though and the question of how you would know if the pulses were from an alien intelligence. She replied that she’d expect some kind of code – a repeating pattern perhaps.  Anyway, over 2000 pulsars have now been discovered, and still no little green men.

robin inceAfter the interval, the comedian Robin Ince took to the stage, and gave us a high-speed short version of his 3 hour science stand-up routine!  Radio 4 listeners may be familiar with him through his programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, co-hosted with Professor Brian Cox – Ince told us how he is the ‘enthusiastic idiot, the antimatter version of him‘ (Cox, that is).  He was actually quite funny (although a little loud and definitely hyperactive). He told some great true science stories including about Darwin’s nose, Richard Feynman and the aurora borealis, and he showed some stunning pictures from a Tumblr blog called WTF Evolution! – do check it out.

This was followed by a final converscience between the three – and with three sceptics on stage, the question of whether science and religion could ever be reconciled came up. Professor Close put his reply rather well – there are ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’ – science is a how, religion is a why, Bell (who is a Quaker) added that she had no problems with it as they both have sense of wonder.

I was helping sell books at the event, and of course I succumbed to buying a copy of Ince’s tome – Robin Ince’s Bad Books Club: One man’s quest to uncover the books that taste forgot.  Nothing to do with science, but it looks rather fun.  I got him to sign my copy, and he wrote:

‘To Annabel, beware lighthouse keepers posing as novelists. Robin Ince.’

Hmm! Cryptic…

Night two of ATOM! to follow this evening – a lecture by Jim Al Khalili about quantum biology.  I’m doing the book-stall again (natch!)

‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ …

Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

reasons-she-goes-to-the-woods-9781780743769_0 Deborah Kay Davies is one of those writers who does dark brilliantly.

Her first novel True Things About Me (my review) was disturbing yet unputdownable – about a thrill-seeking young woman who gets into an abusive relationship.  Her second novel, the Baileys longlisted Reasons She Goes to the Woods is also disturbing and unputdownable…

It’s about a child, Pearl, and her family. There’s her little brother The Blob, there’s her mother and her beloved Daddy.  The book’s blurb quotes from the nursery rhyme There was a little girl, (which was actually written by Longfellow, I found out!).

When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

Except that Pearl is more often horrid than good. She’s an experimenter on other people – when she gets found out, they don’t like it – especially her mother who punishes her. She hides in the woods behind their house. It soon becomes clear that the mother has mental health problems, and Pearl gets blamed, and as she grows up and becomes a teenager, her experiments get nastier, and her mother carries on getting worse. Her poor beloved Daddy is beside himself with worry.

Some might say that the outcome of the novel is predictable given Pearl’s seeming single-mindedness in her actions; the route to get there though is not so obvious and builds up gradually over the course of the book.

The author, tells the story with a great deal of style. Although the book is nominally 250 pages long, only half the pages contain the story. Each pair of pages contains a one or two word heading on the left, and then a single paragraph that fills the page on the right. So the book is only really about 120 pages long.

Each right hand page is a vignette recounting one snapshot of Pearl’s life, moving from primary school through to teenage years. The extract below is the last third of the first of these little stories that make up the whole:

The living room is quiet. In the entire world there is only Pearl and her father. Her mother laid a fire before she went out; taking ages, leaving instructions, dropping things, then slamming the door and coming back. Now Pearl listens to the sounds coming from the grate as the flames lick each other and purr. From the place pressed against her father’s knee she feels a rippling sensation move through her body, as if a delicate, frilled mushroom were expanding, elongating, filling her up. She exhales slowly. She mustn’t disturb him. He would push her off with his beautiful hands if he woke up.

Told in the present tense, there is a dreamy otherworldliness about Pearl’s actions that belies the fact that a lot of what she does is downright nasty. It’s clear that the mother-daughter relationship never happened and that she idolises her father. She also has a controlling relationship with her few friends, and The Blob too of course. After all, Pearl only wants one thing …

Deborah Kay Davies has again probed the dark side of relationships – different ones this time.  I wonder where she’ll go for her next novel?  As I said at the top, this book is disturbing and unputdownable, an uneasy but thought-provoking read.  (8.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, pub Feb 2014 by Oneworld, 250pp, Hardback.

A screenplay novelisation …

A Million Ways to Die In The West by Seth MacFarlane

Seth_MacFarlaneThere’s no denying it – Seth MacFarlane is very talented.

Apart from being very handsome, he’s an award winning animator – having worked for Hanna-Barbera after college, he’s the creator of Family Guy, co-creator/producer of American Dad, the comedy film Ted, and he acts/voices many characters. He sings too (wonderfully – I’ve seen him with John Wilson’s orchestra) and had a hit album of standards. Now he’s written a book – sort of…

When I saw his name attached to a comedy western novel A Million Way to Die in the West, I pre-ordered a copy – in fact I forgot I’d pre-ordered it and bought it again – so I have a spare.  It wasn’t until the book(s) arrived, that I found out that the novel is based on a screenplay by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for a movie of the same name.  A little searching brought up the film poster below – it’s released in May.

millionwestposter_large It’s the tale of a mild-mannered sheep farmer called Albert Stark who’s fed up with life on the American frontier.  It opens just past high noon and Albert’s been waiting for the guy who challenged him to a duel to turn up.  He’s late, Albert’s a coward and he uses his opponent’s tardiness to wriggle out of the duel which would have meant certain death.

Louise is the object of Albert’s affections – she promptly dumps him after the non-duel for Foy – the extravagantly bewhiskered and over-dandified owner of the town’s moustachery.

Albert’s one friend Edward isn’t much help. Edward is a simple and happy soul who is engaged to Ruth, a Christian whore who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, (apologies in advance for the quotation below):

‘Where’s Ruth? She coming to church?’
‘No, she has a ten o’clock blumpkin,’ Edward answered matter-of-factly.
Albert stared at him, confused. ‘What’s a blumpkin?’
‘It’s when a man receives fellatio while he’s making stool. They just invented it in Italy, and it’s become popular here.’ Edward smiled with pride in his awareness of world affairs.
‘Receives fellatio? You make it sound like a Communion service,’ Albert said.
‘Well, it’s just the process.’
‘So, a guy gets his dick sucked while he’s taking a shit.’
‘Albert, don’t use those words, Edward said with indignation. ‘It diminishes Ruth’s work. She takes a lot of pride in doing a good job.’

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Yes, this is the level of the humour in this story.

What can Albert do to get Louise back?  A mysterious lady stranger may hold the answer – when Albert rescues Anna from danger in a bar-room brawl, they hit it off, and become friends. Anna turns out to be a regular Annie Oakley, and teaches Albert how to shoot.  But before he can put his new-found skills to use, Anna’s past catches up with her when the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, the deadliest gunman in the west, comes to town…

I think the movie is going to be hilarious – sort of like Deadwood done for laughs – it has an all-star cast and looks great from the publicity photos.

The book though, because it was written up from a screenplay, is a little thin, not enough added to it to make it entirely successful as a novel.  It has it’s moments – there are some great funny gags, and even a reference to Homer’s Odyssey, but there is an awful lot of toilet humour – the film I imagine being aimed at late teens and upwards audience.

There was nothing wrong with the novel, it entertained and was very easy to read, it just lacked a bit of substance.  This is one occasion when I can say – I’m sure the film will be better than the book, and as a lover of westerns, I will probably go and see it. (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane, pub March 2014 by Canongate, 208 pages, hardback.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – what a film!

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterImaginthe-grand-budapest-hotel-featurette-the-storye one of those old grand spa hotels from the early 1930s in an Eastern European alpine setting – a destination in its own right, busy, happening and very posh. Fast forward a few decades to faded grandeur marred by 1970s orange everywhere, near-empty, peopled just by the curious, or those on a bargain package… such is the plight of The Grand Budapest Hotel in Wes Anderson’s latest film.

What happened to the hotel? What was it like in its heyday?  Framed as a story within a story within a story, Anderson tells the story of Gustave H. – the best, the most attentive hotel concierge you’ve ever seen, and the events that got him into trouble.

Ralph Fiennes is Gustave, the concierge with an attention for detail nonpareil, who keeps all his old lady clients, including an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as Madame D. a dowager on her last legs, ‘entertained’.

The hotel has a new Lobby Boy – Zero, played by Tony Revolori, whom Gustave takes under his wing. Gustave will teach him to ‘Anticipate the needs before the needs are needed.

When Madame D. dies, they go on an adventure together.  Against the wishes of her sons (Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe), she had left a priceless painting to Gustave.  In a moment of impulsiveness, Gustave takes the painting and runs – leaving him open to being prime suspect when it becomes clear that Madame D was murdered.  A series of hilarious capers ensues as Gustave is caught, escapes, and seeks out the truth.

The look of the film is sumptuous. All the interiors are plush and lush, or dark and brooding as needed. It is always snowing in this alpine region, but it never feels cold – strange that.  However, having made the wonderful stop-motion Fantastic Mr Fox (my favourite Wes Anderson film until now), the director has built in some animated sequences too – the hotel from afar is seen as a cut-out against a screen backdrop and there are trademark scenes of running characters seen in silhouette against the sky – they blend perfectly into the action.  References abound too – from the police inspector’s fox head badge to scenes of long, and I mean really long, ladders. I loved all this.

Then there is the cast – I can honestly say that I can’t think of another film that has so many cameos of star quality as this one.  Apart from Gustave, Zero, the nasty brothers and Jeff Goldblum as the lawyer, the other main parts are all small but lovely – Harvey Keitel’s tattooed prisoner, Ed Norton’s police inspector, Tilda Swinton possibly stand out, but they are all wonderful.  All of Anderson’s usual collaborators are there, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman too.  (Doesn’t Adrien Brody look a proper gorgeous villain with that ‘tache?)

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Dominating though is Fiennes as the normally unflappable Gustave, who when flapped is totally hilarious, other times effortlessly charming, the perfect host, and always just slightly camp, darling.  Revolori makes an excellent foil – although he does get cross when Gustave can’t help flirting with his girlfriend (Saiorse Ronan).

zweig

I haven’t mentioned the music yet either – lots of balalaikas – I adore balalaikas so much I’ve bought the soundtrack album.  In fact I want a balalaika too!

Now I can’t wait for the book of Stefan Zweig writings that inspired the film to arrive now…

This film is vintage Anderson, quirky, quietly hilarious, brilliantly acted, and with an exceptional attention to detail. It was utterly, utterly fab, and I’d go and see it again without a doubt (if I wasn’t too busy).

Anderson & Zweig; Thorn and Morrissey

I know – it’s too long since you had a proper book post – they will come soon, promise. Life is so busy at the moment, and for the next couple of weeks it’ll be the same – as I have the Abingdon Science Festival to go to/help at, several trips to the Oxford Literary Festival planned (Natalie Haynes, Celia Rees and friends talking about women in history in YA novels, and Ian McEwan. I plan to write about them all in due course. Plus there is that big project I mentioned before that I can’t tell you about quite yet (what a tease!)

All of these are taking up too much of my time, (but in a good way!).

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterMeanwhile, I’ve given myself the night off from reading and am going to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies this evening.

There is a bookish link, as director Wes Anderson has based the film on stories by Stefan Zweig, and Pushkin Press has brought out a book of selected writings, introduced by Anderson … The Society of the Crossed Keys (affiliate link) to link with the film.

I’ve never read Zweig, but have ordered the book above so I can get started after seeing the film tonight, and I may well put down my thoughts about the film tomorrow.

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bedsit disco queenI’ve read a lot of good books lately, but the one I’ve been enjoying the most over the past couple of weeks is Tracey Thorn’s volume of memoir Bedsit Disco Queen. Forget the purple prose and bitter rants of Morrissey, reviewed here, Tracey’s book is just brilliant all the way through.

She tells her story from her punky schooldays, through forming The Marine Girls, then English at Hull university and meeting Ben Watt, through all the ups and downs of Everything But the Girl, eventual big stardom thanks to that remix of Missing into semi-retirement and motherhood.

That she’s managed it all and stayed totally sane, never becoming a diva – remaining the extrovert introvert she is – and obviously a nice person, made this the best memoir about pop music that I’ve ever read.  One bit that really tickled me though was in a chapter called ‘The Boy with the Thorn in his Side‘ where she talks about Morrissey and the Smiths – here’s a taster …

I loved Morrissey with a devotion which outweighed anything I’d felt for a rock singer before, and which I now blush to recall. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep with him (well, no, I did actually, but that seemed unlikely to happen, what with one thing and another). It was more that I wanted to BE him. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling this, though I suspect most of the others who felt this way were probably boys. For an androgynous girl like me, Morrissey was an intoxicating new kind of role model – camp in many ways, but also surprisingly butch. He reminded me more of a male version of the female singers I liked – Patti Smith or Siouxsie  – than any previous male rock star. His onstage performance style inspired mine for a good couple of years – a Melody Maker review from 1985 reads: ‘Tonight Tracey might have played it like the girl with Morrissey at her side’, while this one is from Sounds: ‘Thorn continues to stifle her desire to impersonate Morrissey, arms threatening to lose control of themselves.’

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Harry choosing

 

And finally, the winner of the Giveaway of a copy of Mark Miodownik’s new book (reviewed here, as picked by Harry is …

K E V I N

I’ll be emailing you for your address very soon.  Well done, and thanks to all who entered.

Helping YA readers decide …

Some time ago, I wrote a post which opened up a great discussion about age-appropriate reading for teens (see here), particularly about sexual boundaries – and the debate is still open – it’s a book by book decision.

Today I’d like to raise another question?  How might you help picky teen readers find books they want to read?  Read the blurb – naturally, but they tend to make snap decisions based on the cover art. By the time they might turn the book over to see the blurb, it’s often too late in my limited experience.

That’s why I really like what Hot Key Books have done. They are specialist publishers of titles aimed at children aged 9-19 years old. I’ve read several of their books now and have been impressed by them all.

Their innovation is that all their books have a simple little “themes wheel” on the back cover, which tells you at a glance where each title is situated in the world of genres and general fiction. Here are a few examples:

SAVAGES_RING_ACTUAL This is for The Savages by Matt Whyman which I reviewed here.  Personally, I’d have made the black comedy portion a little larger, but it is accurate enough – it just doesn’t mention one key word, which I think I’ll leave as a surprise – click through if that intrigues you!

STRAY_Ring This one is from Stray by Monica Hesse, which I reviewed here.  The theme ring captures the four main themes perfectly. I loved this novel and can’t wait to read the sequel set in this kind of dystopia.

madness ring I’ve just finished reading The Madness by Alison Rattle – review to follow, but you can get the picture from the graphic and title, without needing to see the cover necessarily…

TRIBUTE ring

And lastly my next read from Hot Key Books is called Tribute by Ellen Renner. It has a feel of Dark Ages mages and slavery about it… I hope I’m right.

Forgive me if this is sounding like a commercial for this particular publisher, (I should say too that all the titles mentioned above have been sent to me by the publisher after selecting them from their lists), but, I think this is a genuinely helpful little graphic device.

Anything that encourages teens to keep reading and to not dismiss a book by its cover should be encouraged.  As an adult who loves to read books written for teens, I’m finding them useful (although I think the general populace might think them condescending were they to start appearing on grown-ups books!). I do like the idea that they might get people to read outside their comfort zone too – I’m not a big reader of full-blown historical fiction – but 30% historical, 30% passion and 40% obsession sounded good to me – and The Madness was excellent!

What do you think? – Discuss!

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Don’t forget that my giveaway of a signed poster and copy of Mark Miodownik’s excellent new paperback Stuff Matters continues until Wednesday tea-time. See the previous post or click here.

“Marvellous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World”

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

stuff matters cover What would we do without man-made materials?  We can’t live without them these days.

Mark Miodownik, whom some of you may recognise from his regular TV appearances on Dara O’Briain’s Science Club on BBC2, wants to tells us all about the things our man-made world is shaped from. Mark, like me (!), is a materials scientist. Unlike me, he’s a practising one, being a Professor of the subject at UCL in London.  In his book, published last year, now available in paperback with this gorgeous cover, he wants to persuade us that ‘Stuff Matters’.

Further down this post, you’ll find a competition to win a copy of the book plus a signed poster of the cover.

In the introduction, he explains to us where his fascination with materials came from and it’s a grim start. As a teenager, he was badly slashed with a super-sharp razor-blade by a mugger on the London underground, and couldn’t believe that a small blade could cut through five layers of clothing and so deeply through the skin of his back as he escaped.

mark miodownikIn the following chapters, he takes us through the development of some of the fundamental materials in our lives like steel, paper and concrete; materials that help us as we age, entertain us at leisure; also some of the most interesting new ones like aerogel and nanotechnology.

He’s great at explaining complex subjects making things like how the faults in the crystal structure of metal alloys are what helps to make it strong seem straight forward, (although at uni-level I remember struggling with atomic planes and dislocations at first) and that’s no mean feat. This is a wonderful tour around the world of materials science, it’s entertaining, full of facts, and easy to read. Mark makes for good company on the page and I heartily recommend it. (9/10)

Now for the giveaway:

Thanks to those lovely people at Penguin, I have a copy of Mark’s book and a signed poster of the book cover to giveaway.  I’m afraid it’s open to UK residents only.  Just leave a comment below – and if you like, tell me your favourite material that things can be made of, but that’s not compulsory. We’ll draw a winner at Wednesday tea-time.  Good luck!

I shall leave you with a clip of the front cover being assembled.

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Source: Publisher – thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik, pub Penguin 2013, paperback 272 pages.

If you found Stuff Matters fascinating, you might be interested in the book below. The second edition, published in 1976, is still in print and still used today. It was the one book I was told I had to read before going up to university, and it was fascinating.

The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don’t Fall Through the Floor (Penguin Science) by J.E.Gordon, pub Penguin, paperback.