Tag Archives: kirklees

A Killer? Minus The Caffeine.

14 Jul
Post 3 – for ReadKirklees

Occasionally I do chuck a book title or two into this blog as ‘recommended reading’ for like-minded folk. And last year I flagged up a book named ‘King Crow,’ by Michael Stewart. Mr Stewart happens to hail from the same side of the hills as I do (that dreadful Manchester place) and like me, he also did the defector thing – now happily living in west Yorkshire, hanging out in Kirklees and no doubt feeling as confused as I do, in terms of whether he’s more of a red, than a white rose.

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics...

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics from days of yore..

Now, ‘King Crow’ was a darned fine book. So much so that it won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ award. So much so that I’ll be honest here; I didn’t really want to read Michael Stewart’s next offering. Because I don’t know about you, but these days, I rarely find a writer who manages to pack the same kind of punch with that ‘difficult second novel.’

But ‘Cafe Assassin’ has more than managed to pull this off. For me, the acid test of a damned good read is this; that you find yourself flicking back and forth in the book – checking facts and circumstances; reminding yourself of the vaguely sketched but now important, details of the story. Smiling to yourself ‘ah yes….that fits. I like that.’ And the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that you find yourself thinking of the story a few weeks later – pondering the characters, their motivations. And finally – when you find yourself trying to lend your copy to your mother (even though there are snippets in there that she might not fully approve of – and I’m not talking about the way the author disses The Cramps) well. Then you know that you really *should* flag the book up to all and sundry.

Be afraid. Especially if you're a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over...

Be afraid. Especially if you’re a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over…

Michael Stewart doesn’t just write books. He’s a bit of a scripter too. And his work always touches on the kind of themes that fascinate me the most; working class origins, poverty versus privilege, justice, people struggling to find their own unique voice in a world that seeks to sink the undesirables and the impoverished as fast as it damned well can.  And what I love most about his writing style is that it isn’t exclusive – anyone – of practically any reading ability – can pick up his work and engage with excellent prose, ultra-realistic discourse, canny social observations and humour – whilst actually educating themselves at the same time (i.e. I’m off to read some Baudelaire and a dab of Gerard de Nerval now.)

Neither does ‘Cafe Assassin’ lack on the storyline. Regular readers of this blog know that for nigh on 15 years, I’ve been involved in support to prisoners at home and abroad – so the blurb on the back of the book was a clincher for me; “Nick Smith went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, after twenty-two years inside, he is looking for the man who put him there…Nick wants everything that Andrew has. He wants it all and he will do anything to get it.”

To kick off with, we don’t know what Nick has done – whether he *has* indeed committed a crime at all – but we know for sure that he’s out and about these days and that he’s mega naffed-off.  In between the thrill of the chase – the desire for house, life, wife – I love the way that Michael Stewart deftly weaves in the colours of the North; I found myself hankering back to the days of mooching around Afflecks Palace in my monkey boots with the Rasta shoelaces, hanging out at The Dry and at The Night and Day Cafe, laughing at the ‘student-types’ at the Hacienda … (and will the lad who approached me on the dance floor there in ’91, informing me “Hey Girl – I’m digging your rave!” please email me? Because you are categorically the only man who has ever complimented me on my dancing prowess. And I would personally like to thank you. You were twisting my melon, man.)

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things?

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things down the Hacienda?

So from the dropping of E’s down at the Hac (not me, Mum!) to the violence of Cat A-Wing HMP Wakefield… right over to the triple-garaged homes of well-heeled Ilkley; our protagonist continues to lurk and plots the utmost in revenge. Yup – Cafe Assassin has all of the bases covered for me.

But I’m not going to spoil any of the suspense for those of you who want to read it (and believe me – there’s bags of the stuff in there) but I will say that for me, at any rate – the ending was rather unexpected.

dockers

Another one of my MADchester antiques

But certainly not a let-down.

So if you are after a rollocking good read for the summer; if you trust me on my previous choices and words of wisdom and if you want to support one of the best indie publishers in the UK (those Bluemoose people) then do snaffle this book up ASAP.

ms on cimbali

The only missing ingredient in the book? The caffeine.

In fact, my only criticism of the novel is that there was a distinct lack of caffeine involved.  But then, none of us are perfect.

 

 

Bicycles … Yorkshire … Africa?

19 May

Me. Fresh as a daisy! Yeah, right.

Back from sub-saharan Africa … a houseswap … a work-related project … and a ‘holiday’ (employing inverted commas here because is it *ever* a holiday when accompanied by humans under the age of 21 who happen to be your own, delightful offspring?)

So much to report on  and to ruminate over after our little jaunt to The Motherland. To begin with – how we dealt with such an enormous lack of internet, cell phones, a TV, doorbells and immediate neighbours (none within a mile …)

All of this was utterly weird at first. And then it became incredibly wonderful.  And I am missing it already. After the first few hours of adjustment, we began to see it all as a bit like a gift from the big guy upstairs (NB – apologies to my Brit next-door neighbour, Lisa  – who really shouldn’t take offence at the above paragraph. Our Lisa is welcome anytime of the day at our slum – especially if the cuppas are accompanied by our usual bitch-fest with regards to certain Kirklees household refuse collectors!)

But one thing that I am really noticing since we got back is the sheer volume of giddiness with regards to Le Tour Yorkshire here in The Valleys.

Don’t get me wrong – I am chuffed to mintballs about the fact that Le Tour is going to be wheeling it’s way through God’s Own Country. Many of our local writer-sorts worked their batties off in order to get a teensy bit of grant-funding so that we could mix n’ mash writing and the arts and expose the usual wheely-obsessed sorts to our local scribbling talent (YOU GO Holme village and the Yurt and our postcard project!)

But having had many conversations with desperately poor people in southern Africa as to the the tiny things that would improve their lives, I cannot help but have a slightly different perspective on things on my return home.  Apart from food, healthcare and education – one of the things that cropped up time and again was ‘transport’.

“Just a bicycle to share between our families, would really make such a difference,” was something that we heard an awful lot…

Owning a bicycle would mean that those people in Namibia, in rural Botswana, Zambia, Zim or South Africa – those who might live out in the former townships and who are the fortunate ones to have jobs out in the towns – don’t have to spend one-fifth of their meagre wages on transport. Owning a bicycle would mean access to emergency help when problems arise. Owning a bicycle would mean true independence – a foothold on the ladder to dignity. Owning a bicycle would mean having enough food in order to stop your children from dying of malnutrition.

And really, I am not exaggerating this last point. I’ve just arrived back home to the UK. I witnessed a deterioration in circumstances for the poorest people in Namibia since only a few years ago, when I lived there myself. I saw what a difference just a few pennies a week can make. In terms of life and death amongst the bairns in the Kalahari…

But more on that, later.

So. for now.  Let’s celebrate our marvellous chance to show the world how Yorkshire Rocks in terms of our hills and valleys – but let’s also have a serious think about how we can turn some of the media spotlight and the inevitable money involved in Le Tour – into something that will actually benefit the world’s poor.

And yeah. I am inviting Answers and Ideas On A Postcard. Please!

Le Tour Yorkshire – and indeed Holmfirth – came with us. But we would have loved to have left a permanent legacy in a land that so desperately needs two-wheelers…

 

The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)

A Flat Head? EJ Howard, writing and the waterways…

3 Jan ej howard

One of our local librarians managed to push aside the fear of her own redundancy in order to try and engage with me. There I was.  Wild eyed and raddled mother of second, newborn baby. Desperate for something both entertaining and intelligent to get me through the wee small hours of brain and boobie-overdrive boredom…

Without Anon Librarian-Lady, I would never have heard of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Or the Cazalet chronicles. Without Unknown Kirklees Library-Lass, I would never have ended up corresponding with E J Howard herself.

All it took was a certain librarian making a certain recommendation (sans Amazon, sans Kindle estimates of previous-purchases help…) “Oh – judging from your returned books – I think that you will like EJ Howard and the Cazalet chronicles – we don’t lend them out enough these days. A real shame!”

And this was…what? Some FOUR years before BBC Radio 4 decided to credit Elizabeth J Howard for her societal, spiritual, humanitarian and yes – beautiful prose, dialogue and character-observation.

Oh, dearest BBC Radio 4 commissioners I hate to say this, but yes. I really want to say ‘I told you so.’ Elizabeth’s writing was and is amazing.  Tasty, profound, political – without being preachy. Even though many of her contemporaries – and especially the Literahti – perceive her to be ‘domestic, upper class. old fashioned commercial women’s fiction’

Cobblers, my fellas. Just read her stuff.

And yes, how I wish that Radio 4 had re-discovered her before the very recent time where her Cazalet Chronicles were snatched up as new fodder for a Radio 4 audience who had enjoyed ‘Downton Abbey’ etc… But hey. Better now, than never.

I was fortunate to have been able to correspond with her directly.  She was an exceptionally rare person. A woman able to disreguard the birth prejudices of all of us in terms of economic family of origin.  A fellow ‘starting writer in heart’ even though she soared above us all.  She adored books, grassroots, off-the-wall, boho society. She admired socialism, quakerism and pacifist thought. She venerated books and the ‘simple life’. Here was a woman who ‘way back when’ had braved the infamous Standedge Tunnel and who still admired those crazies of us, who still square ourselves up for that all too rare  200 years old tunnel experience right here and now on the waterways today.

And poignantly, she admired and priorised the extended family. She was a subtle reminder to us all that ‘love affairs’ of the heart can and do change but that actually ‘being a parent’ has nothing to do with whether you have actually given birth or not.That parenting per se goes far beyond biology, paperwork and gushing sentiment…

As for me, I will never forget her kind responses and encouragements to my yearning to write whilst being a mother to small children. And that particular encouragement as to how parking the mammoth Cazalet chronicles on the noggin of child number two might not simply lead to a ‘peculiarly shaped, flat-head’…. but also might lead to a life-long love of books and learning…

ej howard