Saturday 29 October 2016

Home is Where the Pin is

When I was posting an event on Facebook earlier for my latest Glass Houses signing in Newark, and when I was so excited to see lots of familiar faces from my past and present showing their interest, I remembered a story-cum-memoir about my move to Newark in the late 70s. 

Much-loved Newark Market Place
I remembered the account as being quite an amusing tale. However, re-reading it now, I found it quite emotional. This wasn't just about the plunge back into those first few terrifying weeks of life for a ten year old in a new town, although the memories did make me gulp a little, nor was it much to do with the throwback to the 'sandshoes' incident which will always make me cringe. It was the reminder of the friends I'd made and how much had happened before I left Newark eight years later, which made me sniff a little.   

Suffice it to say, I am ridiculously excited about going back to Newark for a book signing at Stray's Bookshop and Coffee Bar on Saturday 12 November. Local folk, or if you just fancy a day out in Newark ("Yes, it's on the train line to London."), I would love you to come and say hello. As you may have noticed, wherever I sign a book, I'm never far from a quality, often quirky, bookshop café and Stray's is no exception. More details here

I hope you enjoy the beginning of Home is Where the Pin is. Click on the link to my website at the end of the extract if you'd like to know what happened to Poe (name changed to protect his identity :)

“Sandshoes,” I said. That was all it took. Would we need our sandshoes for the PE lesson in the hall with the piano, stage and non-sport related paraphernalia pushed to the side? I’d come from a middle school, you see. We had timetables and different teachers. And French. And we certainly didn’t have a hall-cum-theatre. Oh no! We had a gym. In our gym we wore sandshoes, unless we were doing gymnastics and then we had bare feet.
It seemed a safe question to me in this terrifying place that was Farndon Primary School, where, if people did understand what I was saying, they certainly weren’t letting on.
“Say it again without the ‘man’ in it,” one eleven year old ordered.
“It’s not ‘why aye’,” said another with more of a snarl, “it’s ‘yes’, just ‘yes’, you ‘dimler’.” This was Poe. He had white hair and tight blue eyes, thin lips which never really moved, even when he spoke, just rested on the slim gap between them. From that moment on, Poe ruled that I would be known as ‘Y Eye’.
Did we need to wear our sandshoes in the hall? Get it wrong and the laughter would start all over again. Had I realised that my question would be the cause of such mirth, pre-pubescent children writhing around in hysterics like the Martians in the Smash advert, I would have simply waited until the last minute, risked a telling off from Miss - considerably preferable to the ridicule of my peers - and taken my lead from others in the group.
I was only a day into my eight weeks with a class of children a year older than me; the only room in June to be found at the inn at this late stage in the season. My antenna for derision-inducing-dialect was becoming more proficient but it was still an imperfect model: more of an Apple 1 computer than a MacBook Pro.
“Ignore them,” Sarah said, a lone voice in the cacophony of references to deserts, sweaty feet, beach towels and deck chairs. She was my buddy, assigned to look after me, and she rose to the challenge as best her eleven year old self could.
“Enough!” Miss said, “Goodness, not everybody’s from Farndon!” No, they weren’t but I wasn’t sure my classmates needed any reminding.
I don’t remember whether we did or didn’t need sandshoes that day but I can vouch for a ‘sandshoe’ being a ‘plimsoll’ ever since.../cont'd here 

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Onward Travel

This Saturday I'll be in Cardiff, a city very close to my heart for many and varied reasons.

Half my family are from South Wales and annual trips for the two week summer holiday from Wylam, our bijoux village in Northumberland, to Bridgend to stay with my tiny, pepper pie making, story-telling grandma and our slightly terrifying but softly spoken, one sweet-a-day-from-the-tin giving grandpa, are a staple memory of my youth.

I remember weather watching after the 6 o'clock news – no Apps back then - to find the best day for our visit to Swansea beach or our essential trip to the local cinema on inclement days. From Wylam, you had to travel to Newcastle to see a film and so we never did, which meant our holiday visits were a Big Deal. Then there were the trips to Auntie E and Uncle E who doted and fussed and plied our enormous family with the best-ever filled sandwiches and if we were lucky, let us print photos in the dark room. If we were really lucky, we were allowed to stay the night and marvel at our equally doting and very grown up twin cousins who got up at 6am to set their hair in rollers before going to work.

I'm sure they were delighted to have the very young me around at that time as they made their preparations to leave.

But my strongest memory of them all is spending most of our days on the glorious foot high wall which edged our grandparents' front garden. It seemed enormous at the time and it was only in later years that I realised the garden, although pristinely kept, was little bigger than the footprint of the house. The wall, with its slightly curved hard stone top, provided the perfect beam for my three gymnastics-mad sisters and me to choreograph and 'perfect' our routines, ready for the shows for interested adults at the end of the day.  

But Cardiff? Well, my older sister went to university in Cardiff and thus I was afforded my first real taste of freedom at sweet sixteen. Mind you, as well as the 'hanging out' with incredibly cool students (they were three years older and, at 16, you don't get much cooler than that, do you?) etched in my brain are also the memories of Birmingham Bus Station.

Oh my!

I had to travel from Newark via Nottingham and change at Birmingham for onward travel to the final change in Bristol before reaching my destination, surprisingly only five hours later.

How I ever managed the logistical feat of boarding a bus in Birmingham remains a mystery.

There was a 'unique' system where people were ejected from their first coach into an area the size of a school playground which was already screaming at the edges before the coach crawled in. The flock of onward travelling passengers were then left to fend for themselves. No chance of a cup of tea in a white plastic cup, even if I could have afforded it, picture being centre of the Mosh Pit when Wham! were playing and you'll know why keeping a firm footing was my first concern.  

My second concern was 'The Announcement'. Would I hear it? Even back then my hearing wasn't my best asset and add to the mob of people the crackling loud speaker, and deciphering the instruction, 'Bristol bound, Zone E' was every bit as stressful as the anticipation of O-levels. Even back then, deep in the middle of the Eighties, five foot one and three quarters was pretty tiny and never did I feel smaller: invisible. And younger. My memory of the view of the others in the crush to catch the coach was grey with a purple tinge - and just because these people were four times my age, doesn’t mean they couldn't bustle and jostle with the rest of them.

Birmingham Coach Station, 2009,
after its £15m refurbishment
Once the coach had pulled into its allotted zone, and the hopeful passengers had lolloped and sprinted and hurdled their way to the awaiting coach, there was one more obstacle to onward travel. The seats were a free-for-all and I'd miss an average of three coaches before finally snagging a place on each journey. In addition to my size and youth, I blame my Mum for teaching me to queue. I do remember feeling very Mary Whitehouse about the rudeness of it all.

Still, my ticket cost about 3p so mustn't grumble.

Once there of course, hanging out with my very mature and all-knowing big sis who just wanted me to have 'the best time', I fell in love with Cardiff: the city nightlife, the university union, the castle, the sport, the shops. All this so close to your student digs? Life couldn’t get better than this. In fact, I'd have considered it as a university option if it hadn't been 'my sister's city'. No matter, she lived there for many years after and I've been visiting the city ever since.

And why am I travelling to Cardiff this time? I'm privileged to have been appointed Writer in Residence at Octavo's in West Bute Street where you will find me between 11 and 4pm on Saturday 15th October. I'll be signing books, hosting a Q & A at 1pm and basically being in a gorgeous book shop in Cardiff, so, please do come visit if you're remotely local. You'll receive a warm welcome from me and the super friendly staff, the beautiful book shop is bursting with new reads, advice and well, cakes... 

...and lunch!
The idea is that if you don’t turn up, I sit, surrounded by books and a stone's throw from their pretty gorgeous looking café, and write. I admit that on a normal day this would be absolutely no hardship to me, however, this Saturday is different. I love, love, love to meet readers (and potential readers) of Glass Houses and Tea & Chemo – actually, it's just nice to chat with any fellow readers, in fact, just chatting generally is right up there with cafes and Prosecco and a run in the hills for me. 

Oh, and as well as a Book Café, Octavo's is also a wine bar.

See you in Cardiff, I hope!
Apologies - too busy
  to take photos, really!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to Waterstones in Harrogate last Saturday. There was a wonderful buzzy atmosphere, lovely to see happy faces old and new and… we sold every last copy of Glass Houses :)

Saturday 1 October 2016

Glass Houses: Harrogate Waterstones

On Saturday 8th October, 1-3pm, I'll be signing copies of Glass Houses at Waterstones in Harrogate and it would be lovely to see you there.

The event is part of the nationwide Waterstones Bookshop Day with quizzes and prize draws taking place around the store, not to mention the opportunity to try out the new Harrogate Waterstones café. Being somewhat of an Aficionado of Harrogate coffee shops, and purely for research purposes obviously, I have had a couple trips to the extensive café on the first floor where I secured one of the window seats over-looking the high street and the special offer cappuccino with toasted teacake. I can vouch for it being a quality experience, suitable for chatting or writing, and you know, surprisingly reasonable.

Apart from the relief of seeing friendly faces so that I don’t look like the girl who wandered into the store and fancied a sit down, it would be wonderful if we could fill the shop and really celebrate the traditional bookshop. It isn't that I'm averse to on-line sales or eBook reading. It's simply that I'd like both formats to travel hand in hand into the next few years so that those who want to browse in book shops, seek recommendations, read the blurb, flick to the middle pages and carry the book home in a cute little (environmentally friendly) paper bag, will still have the opportunity to do so. 

For further details, click here.

Hope to see you on Saturday – please come and say hello!