Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013 books, #71-75

My father and other working-class football heroes, by Gary Imlach. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2006.

This is a wonderful book.  Gary's father Stewart Imlach played in a cup-winning team for Notts Forest, and in a World Cup for Scotland, in the 1950s.  After Stewart's death, Gary realises that he knows much too little about his father's life and times, and goes to investigate.  What results is a picture of English and Scottish football of the 1950s and early 60s, and the vast gulf between these professionals and contemporary footballers. Gary Imlach is an excellent sports journalist, particularly known for his cycling coverage, and managed to draw me in to that sport; it shouldn't really be a surprise that he had me completely absorbed by football half a century ago, but this is definitely one for anyone interested in social history or family research, whether interested in football or not.

Compulsion, by Jonathan Kellerman [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2008.

Really couldn't get into this one, and thought the plot was a bit of a mess.  Jeff Harding's reading meant I'd go through to the end with it, but really, I couldn't do a proper summary of this one.  If you like Alex and Milo working as a team, it's probably an OK one, but I couldn't get enthusiastic about it...

A faint cold fear, by Karin Slaughter. London: Arrow, 2004.

Sara Linton is called to the local college campus to examine the body of a young man who has apparently jumped off a bridge into the lake; while Sara is engaged in this, her heavily-pregnant sister Tessa is brutally attacked. Sara and estranged husband Jeffrey investigate, but their task isn't helped by former policewoman Lena Adams, now a security guard from the college, who appears to be hiding things.  Very good, tightly-plotted novel; one slight whinge is the late discovery of something the readers couldn't have been expected to guess (is there a technical word for this?), but the result is satisfying enough that this isn't overly annoying...

Savage moon, by Chris Simms [audiobook]. Read by Toby Longworth. Bath: BBC/Chivers, 2008.

I was beginning to think I'd gone off audiobooks after several I couldn't really concentrate on; not this one, though.  Something, or someone, is killing and savaging people in the Saddleworth Moor area where there have been mysterious sightings of a large black cat. The victims are found with their throats ripped out and clutching long black hairs. DI Jon Spicer is unconvinced by the big cat theory, and finds himself hunting down a killer; meanwhile, he's worried about his wife, who is becoming obsessed by civilian deaths in Iraq and may not be coping with their new baby. Toby Longworth's reading is as good as you'd expect from this veteran of the BBC radio theatre company.

Bruno, chief of police, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2008.

I heard about this series on Radio 4's Food programme, due to the concentration there is on the food of the area. When that area's Périgord, it makes for excellent reading and eating...  At first, I wondered if this series was going to be rather like the Hamish Macbeth books; but there's a harder edge to these, both in subject-matter and in a lack of romanticism where it matters.  The local mayor, for instance, could be a comic figure, but turns out to be an énarque with his fingers in many important political pies; and the eventual dénouement of the plot is buried deep in France's history of racial and political tension. I'll certainly be reading more of these; it's an area I love and there are some very engaging characters here.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Seamus Heaney,  13 April 1939 - 30 August 2013

Saddened and surprised to hear of Seamus Heaney's death today.  I still have the much-annotated A-level Selected poems 1965-1975*, and have continued to read and collect his poems and essays over the nearly 30 years since.  Stepping stones is still sitting on the "unread" pile on the piano.

I have too many favourites; but I love the last lines of this, as someone who spends too little time living in the moment.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open 

From The spirit level, 1996.

*One of the first things I knew about Heaney was that he was prepared to engage with his readers; my English teacher had been to several talks he'd given, and when we had a somewhat lively dispute in one lesson on what was meant in a particular poem, Mr Doyle wrote to Heaney asking which version was right, thinking that he might answer.  A month or two later, there was a reply; neither version was what Heaney had been thinking while writing the poem, but both were really interesting interpretations; and he added that we sounded like a fun group to teach.  Lessons learned: a) authors are actual people who sometimes write back; and b) this writing and reading thing is a two-way street. Now, in the age of interactivity, both are somewhat taken for granted; then, it felt like a total revelation.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 books, #66-70

On Canaan's side, by Sebastian Barry. London: Faber and Faber, 2011.

Lilly and her fiancé Tadg flee Ireland for America; Tadg is in the Black-and-Tans and has been put onto a death-list by Republicans for alleged atrocities.  Seven decades later, Lilly tries to make sense of her life as an 89-year old, in the context of the death of her soldier grandson.  Lilly's story mirrors the history of the twentieth century, but weaves obliquely in and out of it.  This is a sad, sad book, with luminous moments of language.  Lilly is an everywoman, present at the Easter Rising, with a brother in WWI, a friend in WWII, an employer involved in the Civil Rights movement, a son in Vietnam and a grandson in the Gulf War; and still remains somehow wrapped in her own cocoon.  There is so much loneliness here...  and, if you're me, quite a lot of frustration at Lilly's lack of curiosity about the world around her...  Barry's skill at writing a first-person female narrative is impressive, though.

The kill room, by Jeffery Deaver. London: Hodder, 2013.

A Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sach book; and another excellent one.  An anti-globalisation activist is killed in the Bahamas, and an assistant district attorney comes to Rhyme saying she wants to prosecute the head of an ultra-secret government agency for commissioning the death.  Rhyme can't mobilise his usual forces, but Lon Selitto is never averse to working as a double agent, and there's an excellent new character, a police sergeant in the Bahamas.  Meanwhile, someone is working to get Sach out of the police force on medical disability, and Rhyme has surgery of his own to face.  As ever, Deaver merges the personal and the criminal, but this time it has a twist of the post-9/11 political, too.  And as ever, there are twists, turns, and false alarms; increasingly, he's taking you along with these as a knowing participant.  Most of the time.

Gone tomorrow, by Lee Child. London: Bantam, 2009.

After about two pages of this, I realised I'd already read it.  Or had had it read to me.  I see I completely failed to register any plot details that time round...  The initial scene is extraordinarily arresting, and somewhat terrifying. After that, the rest of the plot is slightly amorphous; there are atrocities in Afghanistan, there are killings in New York, but the reason I couldn't remember what happened is that once you get onto the plot track, there's one seismic shock, but it has a lot less in the way of plot than most of the Jack Reacher books do.  A good read for all of that.  Again.

Dead man's time, by Peter James. London: Macmillan, 2013.

Creepy one, this.  We already know that an ex-convict and Roy Grace's ex-wife are moving closer and closer to him, his new wife Cleo and their infant son Noah. In the middle of this slow burn, a 98-year-old woman is tortured to death in her home while an estimated £10 million of antiques are stolen, and her 95-year-old brother, an equally wealthy antiques dealer, is using his connections to find and punish the people responsible.  The story starts in the early 20s in New York, and the stories are intertwined; I think I enjoyed this even more than the last couple of Roy Grace novels.

Six years, by Harlan Coben [audiobook]. Read by Kerry Shale. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2013.

The love of Jake Fisher's life, Natalie, married another man six years before the story starts.  When Fisher comes across the husband's obituary, he can't stay away and attends the funeral.  But the grieving widow isn't Natalie. As Jake investigates, he finds that the more he discovers, the less he knows - and there are a number of people who are extremely keen to keep him in ignorance.  This is Coben at his best - you're as lost as Jake is, and each time a new explanation seems to work, it gets darker and darker. An excellent reading by Kerry Shale, justifying his near-national-treasure status again...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Contributing to the announcement of a new collection by Woolly Wormhead.  But this one, with a difference.


People who follow Woolly's blog will find mentions of the community in northern Italy she and her family moved to several years ago.  Now that community is threatened by the actions of one local person, and its residents, many of them artists, face substantial legal fees in their battle to remain and preserve the artworks around the site.

So, what do you do as a designer when faced with that sort of fundraising challenge?  You put together a collection, and donate the proceeds to the fund.

And a fine collection it is (as copy-editor, I had a sneak preview, obviously!).  I've only knitted two of these, Encircle:


(Silvia rocks this design above - this is my more staid and much more fluffy version below)


and Pavone (Italian for peacock)


(Sara wearing a less drapy version than the one I test-knitted, modelled by Anya against the background of the building we work in)


I can attest to the excellence of both.  Looking forward to choosing the next one...

You can buy the collection through Ravelry (recommended if you're a member - then it's in your library and you can print out bits and bobs as you need them); if you're not a Ravelry member, you can also get it via Woolly's website.

I'm going to finish with the words of the community in their Statement.  And when you've read it, if you want to know more and offer support, there's a Facebook page; and there's a petition at, and the Twitter hashtag in English is #savemutonia.

Our Statement

 The Mutoid Waste Company arrived in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy in 1990 to perform in that year's "Festival Dei Teatri", a renowned annual festival held in the town. From that time on Santarcangelo became a base for the group and it became their home. Their art, their way of life and they themselves became an accepted part of life in Santarcangelo. Over the last 23 years they have increasingly collaborated on projects with local institutions such as schools, and their ties with the local community have strengthened. In recent years some of the Mutoids have chosen the Yard as a safe place to raise their own children.

The Yard is unique: a place that follows the rules whilst living completely outside them, a place that advocates an alternative outlook on life, a place that allows people to discover new things - and it's wonderful that such a place is considered a true part of Santarcangelo and that the locals readily accept the Yard as part of their community.

Unfortunately the Yard currently finds itself under a very real and serious threat of eviction - a reality which would not only destroy this unique community but also disperse its inhabitants and their artwork. 

 Despite these many years of mutually respectful cohabitation there is one voice that has continually spoken against the Mutoids presence; a single objector who now seriously threatens this culturally important phenomenon.

 Mutonia is not a campsite (even though its inhabitants live in caravans, buses, trucks and temporary constructions that look more like works of art than houses); it's not a standard travellers site (although many of its inhabitants have a semi-nomadic lifestyle); and the group have never illegally occupied the land.

 In recent years Santarcangelo's local council has been searching for a solution to the situation, seeking help from other government bodies, with the ultimate aim of declaring the Mutoid Yard as a Site of Cultural Interest.

Photos in this post copyright (c) Woolly Wormhead (1, 2, 4), (c) Franklin Habit (3) (c) Liz Marley (5).

Thursday, August 01, 2013

2013 books, #61-65

On the road bike: the search for a nation's cycling soul, or, Sniffing the yak-skin shoe, or, The great eccentrics of British cycling, by Ned Boulting. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2013.

This is another lovely book by Ned Boulting.  Taking 2012's Tour de France victory by Bradley Wiggins as its starting point, it looks at the people who quietly, doggedly kept British cycling going over the years before this recent trend, in near-invisibility.  He talks to people you'd expect - Chris Boardman, for whom he has a huge respect belied by their banter on the ITV4 coverage and podcasts, and David Millar. But he also talks to David Millar's mum; and Ken Livingstone, about cycling in London; and finds there are two Tommy Godwins, very different personalities but champions at the same time; and interviews professional cyclists from the 1950s, 60s and 70s only real aficionados would previously have heard of. Oh, and he goes for a ride with Gary Kemp out of Spandau Ballet and his New Romantic Ride; sort of.

Boulting's not a technical nerd - he's quite happy to admit that he glazes over when people start talking about gear ratios and bottom brackets, and is probably the only person whose puncture Chris Boardman's mended in the last few years - and he came to the sport at the elite level with Tour de France punditry, and only later got back on his bike and started cycling seriously.  He still regards himself as an outsider to the sport, and is therefore able to explain beautifully to other outsiders.  He's genuinely fascinated by people, what drives them, and their stories, and plays this wonderfully here.  If you like Stuart Maconie's books about Britain, I suspect you'll enjoy this one very much - the same sort of affectionate, humorous curiosity and genuine respect for endurance and eccentricity is at work.

Sample (from about two-thirds of the way through): In 1937, Ossie set out to reclaim his record. At exactly the same time an English resident, a Frenchman of Scottish descent (I am not making these people up) called René Menzies launched his campaign. Ossie prevailed, riding a staggering 62,657 miles, beating Menzies by just 1,096 miles. Intriguingly, although scarcely of any relevance, Menzies, who had been decorated for valour in the First World War, went on to become Charles de Gaulle's chauffeur during the next war, a bizarre biographical detail which, by now, probably won't surprise you.

Force of nature, by C. J. Box. Kindle edition.

The third of the Lyon books, and another crackingly good Joe Pickett novel.  I think I've said everything there is to say about these over the years, but the way Box keeps producing a consistently high, interesting standard of novel is quite stunning.  Again, the theme is very much what people will do when forced to the edge, and as this one focuses on Nate Romanowski and his history in Special Forces, it can be a pretty gory read.  Box keeps the characters straight and consistent, though, and the mystery which is set up in Cold wind is finally explained.

The bomber, by Liza Marklund. London: Corgi, 2011.

Can't remember how I came to order this one from the library, but if someone reading this recommended it, thank you!  Stockholm is hosting the Olympics, but there's an explosion in the main arena; when all the pieces are collected and DNS analysis is done, the victim turns out to be the head of SOCOG, a former banker.  As Annika Bengtzon of the Stockholm evening paper investigates, she discovers a curious absence in the accounts of the victim's life - her husband speaks of her as if he were her PR, and her daughter with hatred.  Sources are also telling her that this was an inside job, not international terrorism.  And then the bomber strikes again... Tautly plotted and an excellent read.

Maxwell's island, by M J Trow. London: Allison and Busby, [2011].

Picked this up at the library when I realised I was going to be handing in all my reading material; I love these books.  Maxwell is at his hilarious best in this one, which involves him, Jacquie and son Nolan reluctantly leading a Year Seven school trip to the Isle of Wight after another member of staff falls down some stairs. This is not the only mishap to befall the cast of this book, and it turns out that the Year Sevens are the least of everyone's problems.  There's a huge great plot-plant at the end - one of those things you couldn't possibly have worked out from the previous information in the book - so if you don't like those, you're forewarned; but to be honest, that isn't what you read these for...

Time bomb, by Jonathan Kellerman [audiobook].  Read by Jeff Harding.  Oxford: Isis, 2009. [Originally published 1999.]

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Alex Delaware (Kellerman's main protagonist), it has to be said.  I picked this one up because I just love the sound of Jeff Harding's voice.  But this has an excellent plot, with twists and turns, and a lot to think about.  Here, a seemingly straightforward school shooting turns into something very different, and Delaware and Milo are drawn into something horrible and sinister. If you're a conspiracy theorist, this is the one for you. If you're not, it's still pretty diverting.