Tag Archives: Ilkley Literature Festival

Mysteries and Coffee-Related Time Lapses

19 Oct

This is the final review from the Ilkley Literature Festival to be posted up here on my own pages. The others will soon be made available on the festival site itself, because I’m just conscious of the fact that everyone who follows this blog doesn’t get as all steamed-up and frothy around the gob as I do, when it comes to books.

In fact, there are two reviews contained in today’s post. And actually – they were the most fun for me to do. Why? Because I managed to persuade my 11 year old daughter to co-review with me. So, for the sake of brevity (and to be honest – she has far wiser opinions than I do) I’ll hand it over to her – and if you’re interested in my own more jaded and faded adult views on the authors Elen Caldecott and Kate Pankhurst – and on their workshops that they delivered, just swing by the festival website, if you jolly well don’t mind.

(Note – don’t be deceived by the Mini Funnylass’ genteel opening words…)

Elen Caldecott’s ‘Marsh Road Mysteries Writing Workshop’  – Review by ‘Mini Funnylass.’

A new convert to writing (the kid - not Elen She's dead good already.)

A new convert to writing stories (the kid – not Elen She’s dead good already.)


“The rest of the workshop kids were listening in wonder to Elen. She was helpful to us, gave very clear instructions and good pointers for our writing. I thought that she was very reassuring and didn’t seem to be nervous at all – because being in front of a load of kids that you don’t know can be horrifying! I loved this workshop. It really was great. I started writing a story that I really want to finish. Now I actually feel a bit confused about what I could do when I’m older. Being a mystery writer is definitely on my list of things of many, many things that I want to do when I’m older –  as well as being a deep-sea diving archaeologist and a teacher.”

Kate Pankhurst’s Mariella Mystery Workshop – Review by ‘Mini Funnylass.’

“Well, first of all we didn’t get to do the whole workshop because Mum totally screwed up on the whole timing thing because she was obsessing about coffee shops in Ilkley. But then she fobbed me off with a packet of Rolos and managed to get me in a good mood. And then things got even better because we actually got to interview Kate Pankhurst personally.

The excellent coffee shop ('Friends of Ham') that I was allegedly 'obsessing' over

The excellent coffee shop (‘Friends of Ham’ charcuterie) that I was allegedly ‘obsessing’ about and causing time-lapses over

The workshop was full of children and she told them that they should always practice doodling as a way of thinking about a new character for a story. And that doodles should NEVER be thrown away. Always keep them as they can maybe lead to a new idea for a book.

Kate used lots of props in her workshop – an old-fashioned telephone, a hat, a furry dog (not real) and a spaghetti-yeti. She was good on advice about getting started with a story – just write about the things that you’re interested in (for example – she said her favourite interests were camping, dogs and baking.) The children were all listening intently. There were no boys at the workshop and everybody also got to draw the character Mariella.

She told everybody that she began writing really, because The Beano inspired her to draw and to write in comic-book fashion. She said that she used to think that her writing wasn’t good enough – because she just thought that all she could do was do illustrations – but now that she has done so well with her Mariella books, she feels a lot better about this.

Trying to swap her last rolo for some artwork, with Kate Pankhurst herself.

Trying to convince Kate Pankhurst herself to trade her ‘Mariella’ doodlings for a last rolo

She gave some helpful tips.  One of them was that you should always finish your work and never give up. You can go and take a walk with the dog if you are losing the plot. Which would be good advice for me I suppose, but unfortunately my mum won’t let me have a dog.

I also learned that Kate doesn’t like Rolos. Which was actually a good thing for me. As I got to eat the whole packet.”





Shining A Light (it ain’t white)

12 Oct
end of empire

Handsome young chap in his day. Would happily have met him.

As you’d expect, most of the audience who had purchased tickets to hear ‘The Man In The White Suit’ speak about his latest book ‘The End of Empire,’ were over the age of 50. All of them evidently pretty much clued up about The Man’s various careers as: soldier; BBC foreign correspondent; MP; Unicef Ambassador author and these days – witty wordsmith and poet raconteur.

But let’s go back to the ‘hey – we’re all getting older’ side of things. I managed to bump into Martin in his white suit before the event kicked off and two things shocked me. First of all, the fact that the suit is definitely more a creamy colour (perhaps he relies a little bit too heavily on Ecover, as opposed to Daz). But secondly, that the fella could barely manage to walk; that he was clearly in a lot of pain. I began to fret a little bit – that this guy who was definitely not having a great day – would perhaps instead, have been better of at home, enjoying ‘Strictly’ and quaffing triple G and T’s rather than speaking to a packed King’s Hall in Ilkley.

Yet once he was up on stage and facing his fans, the pain clearly became a side-issue and Mr Bell told those assembled that he had simply suffered a nasty spur-of-the-moment leg injury. That no way-Jose was he going to cancel his date with the Yorkshire lit-lovers for a trifling dodgy-leg-thing going on for him.If I had been Martin Bell, I would have made a joke about my ‘dicky war wound.’ But perhaps he lacks my razor-sharp wit, choosing to overlook this particular chance for an amusing anecdote. But anyway, just 15 minutes later, the film-clips were being trollied out. And Martin was very evidently enjoying his stint in front of the crow, regaling them with stories of his time as a BBC TV correspondent – furnishing the crowd with images from Bosnia, Rhodesia, Vietnam, Syria, Kuwait – or Watergate, of John Lennon’s murder during his various frontline nosey-news antics. And yeah – we saw the footage too, of a forlorn looking Martin being stretchered away from the Balkans, after being hit by shrapnel.

Neil and Christine Hamilton. I've never met them, sadly,

Neil and Christine Hamilton. Tragically, I’ve never met them.

Following on the heels of the war-stuff, an audible cheery burst of nostalgia and mirth filled the place as he promised; “But I’m not going to spare you Neil and Christine Hamilton” and we were treated to reminders of the political soap opera that unfolded when Martin stood as an independent parliamentary candidate against Hamilton, the upper-crust Tory MP who was facing allegations of sleaze. (“I mean, I’d heard of Neil. But no one had ever told me about Christine…”) And then after flying the flag for more virtuoso in politics, Martin stepped down from Parliament and wrote a book about the MP Expenses scandal. Most recently he gave up his seat at Tatton and subsequently has been accused of “allowing George Osborne into politics…”

Martin’s opinions on war and the causes of war were thought-provoking; “I’m not a pacifist but yes… war usually is a total waste of time,” and “one of the lessons of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history.” Perhaps most controversial, was his view that those heart-rending TV images of muslims who suffered during the wars in the Balkans and which were broadcast all over the world – have been directly to blame for any subsequent rise in jihadism and in terrorist activity.

It's not white. Honestly.

Met him. And I’m telling you; ain’t white.

I thought it a shame that he didn’t spend time talking more about his new book ‘The End of Empire,’ which recorded his experiences as a conscript, serving time in Cyprus during the insurgence and which he described as “My best book. Because it’s real.” Because it seemed to me that he had a lot more to share – not the least the vitriol that he still holds for the army officers of the 1950’s (he twice failed the intelligence test required in order to enter those ranks but said “But let’s just say …. I didn’t mind at all – when I saw the officers who had passed…”)

Andy McNab. I unexpectedly liked him.

Andy McNab. Met him. Unexpectedly liked him.

I imagine that Martin Bell has never been compared to ex-SAS soldier and now war-thriller author Andy McNab. But having heard both of their take on army life, on conflicts and on ‘boy soldiers’ – along with their concerns over the lack of political leaders who have had direct experience of war –perhaps next year the festival should invite them both along to discuss the subject. i.e. ‘The Man In White and The Man In Black’. That would be an interesting discussion to hear – never mind the class dynamics behind such a literary combo.

Organisers would need to work hard on pulling a more youthful crowd for such an event, however. Because after all, it’s the younger people who need to hear more about the realities of war and the experiences of the likes of Martin Bell – a chap who has devoted much of his life to tackling injustice and to taking a stand against corruption.

But I still reckon that he needs to change his current washing powder of choice, because after brushing up against the suit – I’m 100 per cent sure that it’s bordering on beige. Hardly Puff Daddy.

Only ever met him in my worst fashion nightmares.

Met him. But only in my worst fashion nightmares.

But then perhaps that’s a good thing.

Sod The Soil? Frame the Mountains.

7 Oct

I’m rather cock-a-hoop to be an offical reviewer for the Ilkley Literature Festival (don’t worry though – the fair folk of Ilkley don’t *really* use such phrases…despite the rumours that our rougher side of West Yorkshire like to peddle about…)

So, here goes – the first review so far:


Tim Marshall has a beard. He also has a long pointy stick and likes to prod it at enormous maps of the world and urge you to get all giddy about mountain ranges and polar ice caps and the like.

dont like maps sml

Despite a house filled with maps; ‘We don’t like geograpy.  All’s we do is study how different local authorties in the UK use different colours for recycling bins,’

But don’t let the above lead you to any stereotypical images of your average tweedy jacketed geography teacher. Because Tim happens NOT to be a big fan of the way that geography is being taught in British schools these days (“sure, learn about your soil samples … but unless you have a basic grasp of the world’s geography, you don’t have the framework on which to hang this knowledge”).

So, Tim Marshall’s approach – “putting the GEO back into geo-politics” is deemed to be highly unfashionable, to be too deterministic. In fact, George Galloway very publicly bawled out the author’s take on how the world works. Yet Tim felt quite content in gleefully sharing Galloway’s vitriol with the Ilkley Playhouse audience (aforementioned newspaper clipping now proudly on display in the smallest room in Mr Marshall’s house.)

But Tim Marshall did a cracking job of convincing his audience of his own approach. For the next 45 minutes, his listeners were treated to a whistle-stop tour of each of the major continents and current conflict zones, with an outline of how and why these areas of the globe will always remain sizzling hot spots of combat. We were invited to venture in to the mind of Putin (“admittedly, not a pleasant place to be,”) and were challenged to think beyond the ‘nation state’- to consider issues such as tribal, racial, religious affiliations – as well as the desperation of the bigger, more powerful countries in their quest for water, energy, trade and in their jockeying for position within NATO and other alliances.

He told his listeners; “I’m not about morality”, but that he prefers to focus on each nation’s point of view. His responses to questions from the audience were excellent; tackling such diverse issues as the role of the digital age, space, devolutionary politics and whether British people (lurking as we do, in a “prime piece of real estate”) should be more concerned about China’s obsession with trade, the growth of South American’s power or with the differing responses of each EU country to the current refugee crisis.pris of geog

In fact, my only criticism of the event was that he covered so many countries and conflict zones and got so wild with his big stick and the maps that, at times, I felt like a pussycat watching a ping-pong match (and unlike George Galloway, my pussycat impression ain’t much cop.) But then, hey; the earth is a damned big place after all. And perhaps the festival should have furnished the author with a 2 to 3 hour slot instead. Judging by the packed Playhouse, this might not be a bad approach for the future for someone with as much to say as Tim has.

So, overall? At the risk of upsetting other authors out there, I have to be honest and state that it’s very rare that I feel tempted to ‘buy the book’ after seeing a talk by a writer. But for sure, here is one piece of non-fiction that I hope to be receiving in my Christmas stocking.

(Postscript – And given Tim Marshall’s distaste for how geography is currently taught in British schools, I cannot help but urge him towards producing a child’s version of ‘Prisoners of Geography.’ I happen to know a small army of irate parents who actually WANT our future generations to be more clued up about the big world picture, as opposed to the details of soil samples, the colour of recycling bins and whether LEGOLAND Windsor is only a couple of miles from the LEGO Discovery Centre. Or not.)

like maps sml

But chuck a bit of politics in, some wars and the odd trip to LEGOLAND Windsor. Or the Kalahari. And we manage to convince the kids…

Go Ask Your Mother… Or Even Better -Grill Your Granny

7 Sep

Do you know what an ‘inter-generational’ project is? Sounds riveting, eh?

But before you expire of boredom in anticipation of today’s little bloggy-offering, please let me reassure you that this whole ‘inter-generational project’ malarky truly IS something to write home about. That it genuinely IS something that should tickle all of our fancies.

You too - can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

See below. You too – can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

In the days of yore, we simply used to refer to such projects as ‘Hey – I have a grandparent. Aren’t they BRILLIANT!!!??!!!’ (Ref: ‘The Fast Show’. Go Google.)

But I don’t want to get too sarky about this side of things, because lots of us (for whatever reasons) have lacked older relatives in our lives. For instance, the folk whom we could rightly claim as our own grandparents and older aunties and uncles, could have passed away when we were just wee nippers. Or maybe family breakdown meant that through no fault of our own, we were estranged from our parent’s parents.

Or perhaps even, those so-called Elders n’ Betters actually turned out to be drunken old lushes who had buggered off with a toy boy named Gazza to the Costa Del Sol (and that was just your Grandad…)

Inter-generational learning about growing up to be a Fag Ash Lil...

Inter-generational learning about growing up to become ‘a Fag Ash Lil’…

Anyways. In recognition of this – and of the fact that so many kids and young people today lack older role models in their lives, I’ve always loved creating and getting involved with such inter-generational projects. The first one that I ever heard about was run by a local community group in Gorton, Manchester. Teens who were having a tough time in life were taught how to do ‘hand-massage’ and were partnered with elderly folk in the area. As yon teen massaged the hand of an older buddy, they both got to know one another better, they traded experiences of dwelling in a (sometimes tough-to-live-in and to-grow-up-in area) and yup… you can just imagine. The youth received some great pearls of wisdom in life, made new ‘mates’… and the older ones who had lent their hands (and their heads) said that the whole project made them feel ‘less lonely’ and ‘more useful to the young people in our area.’

One of my all-time favourite inter-generational projects took place a few years ago, when I lived and worked in the Kalahari in Namibia. Whilst out there,  I trained San Bushmen youth to interview and record the words and lives of their elders. Not only did the kids find out startling new information in relation to how their ancestors used to live – before these amazing indigenous folk were kicked off their homelands – but the project also led to much improved relationships between old and young, heralding a revival in bushmen culture (the youth learning the traditional dances, the methods of hunting and gathering, the history etc. of their elders.)

The book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

A wee book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

It was startling that the San bushmen youth and elders often lived in the same one-roomed shack, but still knew very little about the histories of the elders. And yet… isn’t this something that we’re all guilty of?

I consider myself to be fortunate. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my family are an unusual blend of working-class white and Pakistani-British muslim origin. Over the last two decades – collectively – we have had to overcome plenty of prejudice and bigotry (and I’m not even referring to the poor, discriminated-against Brummie contingent.) So we talk a lot. More than most families, probably.

But even then, we haven’t spent enough ‘getting to know you’ time together. And there has been a huge element of taking the grandpees (as we call them) for granted. Just ask my own Ma about the fact that she and I rarely get time to have a proper natter – because when we do speak to each other, it’s all about the littlies – the dates, the change of dates (yeh-soz Mum), the music lessons, the allergies, the tantrums, the sleeping arrangements, the bargain buys at Boyes in Ilkley and the Panto-tickets. It seems that the generation above us – and us grown-up parents, never get round to simply passing the time of day, talking about the past, mulling over not-so small matters such as Life n’ Death.

Sure, if you’re into your history as I am, you can take all of this ‘missed info’ stuff rather seriously. Urged on by the best Professor of History in the world (Carl Chinn) back in my university days, I actually recorded an interview with my own Granny. I unearthed some fascinating stuff (Gran was once wooed by a certain young Mr Cadbury, whilst she happened to be on her hols in Llandudno…) but you don’t have to be as organised as I, weirdy, nerdy-teen,  clearly happened to be.

Granny in the beret on Llandudno pier. Legging it from multi-millionaire choco-magnate. Like you do.

My Granny (in the beret) on Llandudno pier. Legging it from the advances of a multi-millionaire choco-magnate. As you do.

Because this is where the informal inter-generational project perhaps needs to be considered a bit more by all of us. I was reminded of this the other day when my ten year old informed me of a startling new nugget of information;

GIRL: Mum, did you know how you came to be called ‘Christina’?

ME: Well – yeah. I think Grandma just liked the sound of it.

GIRL: Oh no. It wasn’t like that. You weren’t given your name straight away. Grandad told me.

ME: Well… I know that I wasn’t ‘Christina’ straight away. I know that my hospital tag only had my surname on it. And I do remember seeing a few ‘arrival of new baby’ cards that referred to me as ‘Baby Jennifer.’ So they obviously changed their minds about plumping for that one.

GIRL: Well I know why and how it all happened. About two days after they brought you home from the hospital and thought you would probably be called ‘Jennifer’, the phone rang and Grandad answered it. A drunken man asked for ‘Christina.’  Grandad told the bloke that no one called that name lived there.

ME: Oh.

GIRL: Yes – then – the next night, at exactly the same time – the drunken man rang again and asked for ‘Christina.’ Again. And Grandad said the same thing. No one here called that.  And then when he hung up he said to Grandma ‘Actually – that’s a nice name isn’t it?’ And so they decided finally on your name and registered you with that name – and all of that.

ME: Great. So I was named as the result of a drunken, telephone mis-dialling phenomenon?

GIRL: Yeah! Cool eh?

nana and us babies

My Nana nurses me. My brother was probably hankering after Nana’s pink turban. Ah…the days when hats really *were* hats eh?

But this daft ‘your namesake’ new little revelation of mine reminded me of another ‘inter-generational’ discovery. Sadly, my own Nana died as a result of suffering with terrible dementia. For the last year or so of her life, her conversation made very little sense to most people. But as her granddaughter – it was perhaps easier for me than for others – to listen to her words and to try and find the meaning behind them.

But for Nana’s own daughters it must have been terribly too painful and too frustrating for them to listen to. (And if you’ve ever been through this, you’ll know that nursing a relative or friend through dementia is one of the most heartbreaking experiences in the world. This is truly a case in point where a generation-removed is sometimes a ‘balm for the soul.’)

A year or so after Nana had died – thanks to my dad’s renewed interest in family history – my mother informed me that she had just discovered that her Grandad had died in the Great War. Mum hadn’t known about this at all (because Nana’s mother had remarried when she was only small, so my mother had grown up only hearing about the stepfather in the family.)

AND YET – GOBBY GIRL HERE – already knew about this.


“But I already knew this, Mum,” I said when she told me about the fact that my dad had even discovered Great-Grandad’s war grave.  “Nana told me a few months before she died. An entire tale about how she met him when she was tiny and he was just back home on leave from the war. Wearing his uniform.”

Samuel Hight's grave 1 sml

When she finally knew where her Grandad was buried, mum left a photo of his family next on top of his war grave in Flanders.

This this little case study of course, marked a far more emotional inter-generational revelation than my recent discovery of the drunken phone conversation. And it also culminated in my parents going to visit my Great Grandad’s war grave in Flanders. Serious, heart-rending and important stuff can be uncovered – if we just listen to each other a bit more, between the generations. If I had thought to have mentioned this to my own mum before Nana died… perhaps we could have mentioned it to her more in her last few weeks and…

But no point in dwelling on it.

And on a lighter note,  as well as being the recipients of previously unheard-of information, the younger generations can also inform their elders of stuff that they might not be aware of. Or ‘grass us parents up,’ if you like. My daughter told me last week; “Grandad had no idea that you once chucked a tin of baked beans at Uncle Steven’s head. And that you always tried to get *your own brother into trouble* all of the time –  by sneaking into his room and turning the dial up on his stereo and leaving empty crisp packets filled with water on his floor.”

kung fu fighting

Thanks to my kids, my own folks are more aware of the Kung Fu fighting that went on when *their* backs were turned.

And then the titbits that you feed your own kids about what the grandpees revealed to you about their childhoods, can come back and bite the grandparent’s bums… (“Mum – Grandad tried to tell me off for punching my brother but then I said that he had no right to, because back in the 1950s he once hit another kid over the head with a shovel-handle.”)

So the moral of the tale is to keep that dialogue flowing between the budding youth and the oldies. Between ALL of us really. Or you can do as my mother-in-law has done, write down your life story and self-publish it – ensuring that your nearest and dearest find out about the bits that you may never have gotten round to sharing (although a very elderly friend of mine has done the same but has a lot more scandal to share and has therefore neatly typed out her life story and it remains under lock and key until she shuffles off this mortal coil.)

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was...

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was…

Inter-generational questioning of one another however,  can cause a bit of embarrassment. It might be pertinent for example, to advise the younger generation that it ain’t clever to grill your grandparents about their sex life (as a slap round the chops can often offend.) So diplomacy should always rule the day when interviewing your elders, my dears…

But if anyone- ANYONE – out there happens to know of a chappy who used to be rather sozzled during the 1970’s and who had a lady-friend called ‘Christina’ – you will give me a tinkle, won’t you?

Because it could be the last piece of my own inter-generational puzzle…

Teddy Boy-Dad. Apparently he had 'come to bed eyes'. But these days Mum says its in order to test the new electric blanket he got from Aldi.

My Teddy Boy-Dad once told me that “the girls always said that I had ‘come to bed eyes.'” And I’m all for trading stories Pops, but let’s leave it at that. Eh?