Category Archives: Books

Go The f*@k to Sleep – please

For anyone – like me – who has had late nights and frustrations trying to get the nippers off to ‘Dreamland’

How many times have we all wanted to shout out ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ as one of the little ones pads down the stairs for the umpteenth time in a night? Adam Mansbach has put his frustrations to one side to pen this little children’s book for grown-ups to help us relieve ours.

Better still, get the Samuel L Jackson voiced audio book – I dare you. I double dare you.

Read on.

A reading journal

Spring Heeled Jack as depicted by an anonymous...
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Following on from Michael Gove’s recommendations on the ’50 book a year’ thing for school kids I thought that I would keep a tally of what I’m reading/have read this year. Look out for regular updates.

So far this year I have read (in no particular order)

I am just finishing Burton & Swinburne – The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder and then it’s on to Nemesis, Max Hastings’ history of WWII in the Pacific.

Never mind reading all these. Perhaps it’s time to start writing one. If only I could find the time.

Gove – “50 books a year?” Give us a break

31. Of Mice and Men [208]

Fifty books a year – that’s the recommended annual amount of literature in the government’s latest ‘nanny state’ proclamation. Education Secretary Michael Gove is intending to shake up the national curriculum and make teachers less reliant on staple – and therefore short – texts like John Steinbeck’s of Mice and Men and increase variety and quality of recommended reading for students. Laudable.

But it has been suggested that this should also apply to adult’s reading. Who’s got the time?

I like reading – I’m addicted to it – but 50 books a year – that’s a book a week. Try fitting reading that volume in around the pressures of a busy family life and a full-time job.

Not to mention the cash to buy them or the lack of libraries from which to borrow them if government and local authority cuts force their closure.

World Book Day

Flag of the United Nations Educational, Scient...
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It’s World Book Day on Thursday. World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. It is marked in over 100 countries around the globe. It has its origins in Catalonia, Spain, where roses and books were given as gifts to loved ones on St. George’s Day – a tradition started over 90 years ago. Because we’re a bit different, and to ensure the event takes place in term time and doesn’t mar our own St George’s Day festivities – such as they are in a country that is rapidly losing its own national identity – WBD takes place on the first Thursday in March in the UK and Ireland.

Visit the WBD website for lots of downloads for the kids. And help them spend their tokens wisely.

Oundle Festival of Literature line up announced

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The ninth Oundle Festival of Literature gets underway on 12 March.

Its diverse lineup of events and writers includes Whittlesey actor Warwick Davis, popular historian Michael Wood, historical novelist Simon Scarrow, sports writer and Daily Telegraph columnist Sue Mott and food writer Rose Prince.

It looks like there really is something for everyone. Looking forward to it.

The Ballad of John Clare

John Clare signature
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Just finished reading The Ballad of John Clare by Hugh Lupton. It’s a gentle fictional stroll through a year in the life of the young rural romantic poet.

Published by Dedalus Books (based in Sawtry) the book is not a classic as a novel, it is more of a lengthy spoken narrative of the kind of which Lupton is famous. The book is let down in places by typographical errors and continuity.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read the detailed descriptions of place names most people in the village will be familiar with including Ailsworth Heath, Langdyke Bush, Lolham Bridge, Milton Estate, Swaddy Well quarry and the surrounding villages of Helpston, Castor, Maxey, Glinton, Northborough and Peakirk.

Lupton isn’t strong on literary form and structure, but his engaging narrative style and his skill as a story-teller make up for that. What he is very strong on however, are his descriptions of local customs that have long since been consigned to history or forgotten altogether.

May Day and Harvest Home celebrations were closely linked and Lupton describes these links nad how they fit in with the day-to-day life of the parish. Everyone’s lives were inextricably linked with the calendar and the seasons and these customs are a celebration of those links, which have been lost today for many of us.

Other customs are described such as the riotous behaviour of the village youth on Plough Monday and the performance of traditional plays by local ‘guisers’ who used festive performances at Christmas to supplement their meagre wages.

Rogation Sundays a year apart frame the structure of the novel. Villagers beat the Parish Bounds and give alms to the poor. The first occurs before the enclosures of the Parish fields nad commons have taken place, the second after. Changes are charted throughout the book as the winners and losers in the process are identified.

It’s a great period story and a historical document of local interest. His depiction of rural life in Georgian England just as the Enclosure Act is taking effect resonates even now as the countryside is again going through a period of fundamental change that will alter it irrevocably.  In fact the foreword is a quote from Ted Hughes:

But while the mice in the field are listening to the Universe, and moving in the body of nature, where every living cell is sacred to every other, and all are interdependent, the Developer is peering at the field through a visor, and behind him stands the whole army of madmen’s ideas, and shareholders, impatient to cash in on the world.

 The Ballad of John Clare is available at Waterstone’s in Peterborough or via Amazon.

Also read last year another novel about Clare called The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. This is also a debut novel and a far superior work to Lupton’s.  In it Clare is incarcerated in a private asylum in Epping Forest in Essex, where he encounters Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose brother Septimus is an inmate. He eventually escapes and, delusional, walks back up the Great North Road to his home in Northborough.

Other literary figures with a local connection:

L P Hartley, author of The Go Between lived in Peterborough.

William Le Queux – the father of spy fiction, adventurer, radio pioneer and onetime resident of The Cedars, Castor.

Edward Storey – Fenland writer from Whittlesey who wrote A Right to Song – A life of John Clare.

Mark Haddon – Used Peterborough as setting for his novel A Spot of Bother. It drew criticism locally at the time of publication because Haddon admitted that he had only visited the city briefly.

Marina Lewycka – Used Peterborough as the setting for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

Read all about it – war is hell

Cover of "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Viet...
Cover of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

I’ve just picked up a relatively new novel on the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. Matterhorn already looks like a classic and I’m only six pages into it. And it’s quite a tome – running to nearly 600 pages – reportedly taking Marlantes 30 years to pen.

He describes war in authentic and minute detail. The time Marlantes has taken on this epic has ensured he has crafted a truly accurate depiction of the horrors, futility and sometimes boredom of war and what it must be like to endure combat. After all,  a graduate of Yale University and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes did serve  as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valour, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals.

No doubt Matterhorn will be adapted in to a film to rival Apocalypse Now, which was based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.

There have been other novels about the Vietnam war, including Go Tell it to the Spartans (Daniel Ford) and Meditations in Green (Stephen Wright) but none seem to have achieved the status of true classic, which I’m sure Marlantes’ book will.

Even in the opening few pages the reader gets a good indication of what Bravo Company has to deal with to stay alive. Marlantes sets his themes out early. It’s not simply the enemy, or the suggestion that it is present that engenders fear. There is the natural world around them, the monsoon rain, the mud, the jungle and the leeches – not just on the body but in it. One Marine gets a leech stuck in his penis.

Marlantes’ protagonist, 19 year-old 2nd Lieutenant Waino Mellas,  is also contending with fear, boredom, routine drudgery and racial tension amongst his men. All this is common to fighting men throughout the major conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries from WWI to the current conflict in Afghanistan.

Reading with the kids improves literacy

Cover of "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe"
Cover of The Ghost of Thomas Kempe


It’s my son’s birthday today. He enjoys reading so among his presents are a couple of books about science and space.  

There’s no fiction though, the stuff we enjoy reading together at night. He asked me recently about books that I enjoyed as a child. There are so many it was impossible to give him a definitive answer. We have read many of them together already – The Narnia Chronicles, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Owl Service and so on.  

One in particular did spring to mind though – The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively. It won the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature in 1973. The edition I had as a child was a 1975 paperback edition from Piccolo – now long gone. I bought it in the school bookshop as a ten year-old – coincidently the same age as my son is today. I was attracted by the cover more than anything. It’s the story of a boy who moves to a cottage and gets the blame for the mischief caused by the eponymous troublesome spook.  

I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a copy of that to give to him.’ And I have – on the excellent Abe Books website. A quick trawl and three or four pages in I found the exact edition I was looking for (not the one pictured incidentally). I’ve lightened the wallet by the princely sum of £7.00 and the volume is on its way. I can’t wait to start reading it to him.  

Reading aloud to your child will help improve their literacy and encourage them to read themselves. There is no doubt about it. My children like to be read to – but they also enjoy reading to me, which is a relaxing way to end a busy day.  

Secrets of London

Got a weekend in London planned but not sure what to do. The usual sightseeing staples seem tired. Couldn’t get a ticket for the match or the show? Want something unusual to do?

Then why not get yourself a copy of Secret London . Have a look at an excerpt. It’s an interesting read.

To find out what other people think about it have a look on Facebook.

Personally, I think a visit to The Handlebar Club might be in order.

Babylon was burning for Alan Davies

Alan Davies, star of Jonathan Creek. Cropped f...
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You know how it is. Reading the books pages you see a book that interests you and you really want to read. Potless, you make a mental note to buy it the next time you have enough cash and then forget all about it for months. 

 This is how it was when I came across My Favourite People and Me – 1978-1988 by Alan Davies. I saw him talking about it in an interview somewhere and thought that it reflected some of my experiences and I wanted to get it to compare notes. By payday I had  forgotten all about it. 

That is until I saw Channel 4’s Teenage Revolution on Thursday night. Alan was there in suburban Essex telling me all about his middle class teenage frustrations and clashes with the local skins. Some of this resonated with me. A particularly poignant meeting with the leader of the Debden Skins, who had terrorised Davies and his mates during their youth,  highlighted the social juxtaposition between the working (shirking) and middle classes during the 1980s. 

The programme nicely portrayed the social and racial tensions that were more than just an undercurrent of the 80s. Real life wasn’t all about shoulder pads and gender bending New Romantics. For blokes over 40 – this was a great nostalgia trip. I went straight to YouTube afterwards to download the Punk and New Wave tracks of my youth like Babylon is Burning and Eton Rifles. For girls and anyone under 40, including our kids, it makes an interesting social and historical document. 

This was brought home by Lucy Mangan’s review in yesterday’s Guardian. She found it ‘so extremely boring.’ That’s because Ms Mangan is a girl and under 40 (probably). 

But I digress. I went out and bought the Penguin paperback by Alan Davies – Teenage Revolution: Growing up in the 80s. It is in fact the TV tie-in edition of the afore-mentioned and forgotten tome . Excellent marketing. But I’m really looking forward to reading the book and watching the remaining episodes of the programme.