Home to Roost

Home to RoostPhil: Conventional theory says that a book needs a good, strong plot to succeed. Well, convention is wrong as Home to Roost by Tessa Hainsworth is the third book in a series and yet is completely devoid of any storyline at all. On the basis that her publishers aren’t doing this for fun, we have to assume that people are buying the books.

Instead of a plot, we have a year in the life of the author as she struggles to make a life for herself away from the rat-race in Cornwall. Along the way we meet various characters and enjoy a little window in to their lives. Some of the stories are funny, some very poignant. Reading the book takes the reader in to the heart of a rural community. Cornwall is a place that many would like to live but it’s not all beaches and ice cream and this becomes very obvious. If you can afford somewhere to live, and you’ll have to compete with Londoners buying second homes to do so, you’ll need to find a job in an area of high unemployment and low wages.

What’s fascinating about this book is it appears to be based on real life.

Tessa Hainsworth used to be the UK marketing director for Body Shop. After 20 years of work, she described her life, “I brought in an executive salary and Ben, an out-of-work actor, was doing a brilliant job as house-husband. The downside was that we lived in a faceless commuter suburb in a house that seemed less a home than a hotel, where I crashed out after incredibly long days at work. I went from one extreme to the other, either revved up from the stresses of the job or totally limp and exhausted. The previous Christmas, I had missed my children’s school play because I was working abroad.”

So after a Cornish holiday, she decided to quit the rat-race and move the entire family to the south-west. There she struggled to find a job, eventually ending up delivering the post, a far cry from her previous work. Along the way she managed to bag a book deal describing all of it in the two previous volumes.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure what everyone is getting from this. I read the book, it was pleasant enough, but like a mouthful of candyfloss, I didn’t feel there was very much substance. The earlier books probably had more jeopardy as the author struggled to settle in to her new life with the ever-present possibility of failure. This time she’s got it sorted and so the characters she meets have to provide the narrative. We have a couple who retire at a young age from London but don’t want to be part of the community. Older people who Tessa meets on her rounds fall in love, younger ones find jobs. Trees don’t get chopped down.

One thought did cross my mind. Are the characters real people? After all, the author is apparently describing her life but has she invented the other people? How would you feel if you read a book written by someone you knew and found yourself in the pages? As an author, would that inhibit your writing?

Home to Roost at Amazon

 

 

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Here comes the rain again

Candice Phil’s last post was about how songs can transport you back to a place and time. This ringing a real cord with me as I am in to my music and there are definitely songs that have strong memories for me, and I am always trying to find new music in which to build new memories. I associate Clean bandit’s ‘Rather be’ with being at home with Erin, and am quite into Sam Smith ‘s new album at the moment which is creating a whole new set of memories.

Well Monday was a complete wash out in the Midlands, typical bank holiday weather. Hence the reference to the Eurythmics’ song in my title. I can remember first seeing Annie Lennox on ‘Top of the Pops’ with her red hair and androgynous clothes and everyone saying was it a girl or a boy, but that voice gave it away. However, it did allow me to get things done round the house I wouldn’t have if the sun had been out.

I don’t know about everyone else but if there is sun outside I want to be in it, which often doesn’t bode well if I have things to do inside. I’m self employed which often means I have work things to do evenings and weekends, but a nice bout of sun can make me struggle with work versus fun. I’m missing the lovely sunny weather we had this summer, and the warmth too, but at least I had a chance to catch up.

The same could be said for writing. I can remember trying to crouch over my lap top doing some work in the conservatory, and struggling with wifi and seeing the screen. I could have done it faster if I’d just given up and worked indoors but the pull of the sun was too strong.
I’m off on holiday again soon, and in the meantime I’m hoping Phil and I will get more feedback on our book so we can soon see it in the public domain, but woe betide them if they try and give them me things to do on holiday. That will be an epic fail.

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The People’s Songs

Peoples SomgsPhil: Does a song transport you back to a place in time?

If it does, then you’ll probably enjoy Stuart Maconie’s latest book, The People’s Songs. Although nominally about music, it’s really a history of the UK from World War 2 to the present day focussing on youth culture. We kick off with Vera Lynn and the sentimental songs that everyone wanted during the war years and finish in 2012/13 with Dizzee Rascal and Bonkers.

The concept is sound enough but sometimes the author’s position firmly ensconced in the media bubble as assistant editor at NME shows through. I’m never convinced that punk (for example) was as important to the world as it was in London. Even those heavily in to the scene at the time like Danny Baker have suggested that the whole thing was overplayed by a metropolitan media.

Which makes you wonder how much the music reflected the time and how much it drove the mood. For example, Ghost Town by the Specials is a fine reflection of the period but in the same year (1981) we also bought two different versions of 9 to 5, Antmusic and Girls on Film. Duran Duran came from Birmingham, The Specials from Coventry – 25 miles apart by road but separated by a million miles in terms of musical style.

There’s a distinct hint of shoehorn in the way some tracks are tied in to the histories. Maconie likes to make sure we get some Smiths so there is space for a few quotes from Morrissey. I’m assuming the singer has some incriminating photos of Maconie as he pops up in every book with no hint of derision no matter how ridiculous he is being. Some of these aren’t so much People’s Songs as songs that tie in with the period and say something about it.

Overall though, this is an enjoyable read. I had the advantage of knowing most of the songs, but if you don’t then you’ll probably be scurrying for YouTube to fill in the blanks. Take it as a history of pop culture and enjoy the many tangents the text heads off in. The 50 chapters are bite-sized and idea for commuting or grabbing in short bursts of reading when you don’t have time to wallow in anything longer.

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Suffering for your art

P1060954Candice: I’ve been remiss this week and not managed to write the Tuesday post.  I have an excuse, I took a tumble of Friday and managed to end up in A&E. Add on to that a teething baby who kept me up a few nights, this is the first time this week I’ve actually felt human.

How did I managed to plant my face on pavement?  Well I was out running, trying to clear my mind of a few things that were troubling me, and I tripped. The next thing I knew I was picking myself up to start off again, thinking I’d just grazed my hand, when the lady who stopped to look after me said “Um, you aren’t going anywhere.” Is was then she pointed out the rather large gash in my arm and on my knee.

Now, I did feel rather like a tit as I managed to do this on one of the busiest routes into Stratford.  And I had things to do that afternoon so didn’t really want to miss work because of a silly graze.  But when the first aider tells you they can see bone, you think it might be best to go home.

Why was I doing this?  Well it wasn’t related to our book per se, but it was when I was using my thinking time, something we know that regular writers need.  Our interviews with Julia Crouch, Polly Courtney and Daisy Waugh demonstrated they all take a jog round the block when they are trying to clear their brain.  I find swimming or running are good for that (usually), but some times, like Friday, you are so focussed on what is going on in your brain, you actually don’t see what is around you.  Not advisable when you are on a main road with raised grates.

Thinking time is good, tripping not so good so be careful out there.

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Picture Postcards

PostcardsPhil: As you might have noticed a couple of weeks ago, I went away for a few days. While on my hols and apparently “swanning around” I took lots of photographs, some of which I shared on Facebook. However, I also sent several postcards.

Like my friend, I don’t feel that Facebook is a replacement for real cards. In Candice’s case, it’s birthday cards she cares about (and boy I am I glad I sent one this year), with me, it’s postcards. There is something about a physical item travelling all the way across the world that appeals to me. On one side there will be a picture, the other words written by hand by someone who cares.

I like the fact that the sender has taken time to choose a suitable card from the rack a process I enjoy myself. For example, in the case of someone with a daughter called Erin, I managed to find a couple of cards from Port Erin as this seemed appropriate. That’s rather more appealing than the pictures of kippers my Mum gets but then she likes the horrid, smelly things.

It probably sounds stupid, but I also like the idea that for the price of a stamp, I am going to send this bit of cardboard on an adventure. In my mind I picture it passing through all the stages of the postal process from collection in the box to sorting and delivery. Along the way there will be trips in vans, planes, ships and even bicycles. All this to put the card in a specific letterbox and be picked up by someone on the other side.

There’s also the effort required to buy stamps, write the card (an ideal job for the poolside or in a cafe with tea and cake), remembering the address (I sent a card to the friends next door neighbour by getting the house number wrong. Oops) and getting the thing down to the post box. It all matters to the recipient and gives them a warm feeling – and possibly a laugh depending on the words or pictures.

I know people say that a text message is OK and a good deal quicker. It’s also true that the sender might make it home before the card but then they won’t come through the letter box and brighten up a morning.

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Good Morning Vietnam!

Candice: Another depressing facebook post to wake up this morning, the announcement that Robin Williams has taken his own life.  In the last year we have lost a lot of celebrities by choice or by misadventure.  I just don’t understand.

The other week I was talking about being rich and famous off the back of our book.  Now I’m not so sure.  Seriously, I’d love the money but I’m not sure about the fame, it comes with its own problems.  I was reading an interview with Robert Pattinson at the weekend, he hates the monster that is Twilight as he can’t seem to escape the ‘Twi’ fans.  But mate, that franchise is paying your bills!

There is not much difference between the ‘Twi’ fans and then stalker, then nutter going through your bins and taking over your life.  That’s when all the money in the world can’t make you able to go to the local shop without being attacked or paped.

So perhaps I can understand.  In this world of social media and celebrity press, we can’t get enough and that doesn’t give them any space.  I’m not sure if this is why Robin did what he did, I think the other side of being famous is that you don’t really know who you are, and who your friends are, as everyone is after you for something or you get lost in your characters and struggle to cope with day-to-day relality.

So RIP Robin Williams, I hope you have finally found some relief from the pain you must have had.  But please, people, there are better ways to do this and death isn’t one of them.  And, when you are reading that article about the colour of a celeb’s underpants, remember they are human too.

 

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The past is a mysterious place and I don’t want to go there.

MedalsPhil: This isn’t the post I meant to write today, you’ll have to wait for next week for that one. While we have written a book together, we don’t normally pre-plan our blog posts. This means that on Tuesdays, I have a pleasant surprise when I read whatever Candice has written. This week was particularly thought-provoking.

Our families have very different experiences of wartime. My maternal great-grandfather, John Bridges, fought in World War 1. I’m proud to have the miniature versions of his medals, these being the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal respectively. From these  I can tell that he served from the very start of the war. Other than this I know little of his story as like most men from his generation they didn’t talk about their experience as the memories were so terrible they prefered not to re-live them.

In WW2, my paternal grandfather was an engineer working on high precision implements and so spared from the fighting. On the other side, my grandfather escaped from Poland to fly Spitfires for the RAF along with many of his countrymen. Amusingly, a few years ago, the British National Party ran an anti-immigration campaign using a photo of a Spitfire as the main image. They didn’t realise it was from a Polish squadron…

My father was born during the war but after evacuation had ceased. He later went on to be a volunteer in the Royal Observer Corps watching out for Russian aircraft and latterly atomic bombs. After this, he volunteered with the Air Training Corps. National Service missed him by a few years though.

So, with such a military background, surely I aspired to join the forces as a youth?

Not a bit of it. Quite the opposite in fact. Maybe it was a visit to the vast military graveyards in France when I was 12 or simply an overactive imagination, I have always viewed war as a case of “there but for the grace of God go I”. Born in 70 years earlier than I’d probably been shipped off to the killing fields of Ypres or the Somme. 45 years or so and it could have been Normandy.

Putting myself in the position of anyone involved in these conflicts is incredibly painful. Sitting in a cold and muddy trench, sharing my limited food with rats and knowing that at some time in the future I’d be forced to climb out and run towards a well dug-in enemy is pretty much my idea of hell. Add in the constant artillery bombardment and it’s a scene unimaginably awful. When the whistle goes and it’s time to go “over the top”, the chances are you’ll endure a long and painful death, not the quick lights out portrayed by Hollywood.

For this reason, I’ve never been able to read the diaries and reminiscences of those who did have to do this. They are me from a different age.

It’s also the reason I’m first in the queue to buy a poppy every year.

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