Monday, June 11, 2007

So What Are You Up To This Week...?

cartoon from

I predict an uneventful week ahead. Working, pottering, revising for my SATS helping my son to revise for his SATS, tiling the bathroom, blah.

And on Thursday I shall be at Waterstones in Manchester (91, Deansgate) listening to a promising new author read from her brand spanking new work of fiction. She is called Caroline Smailes. Have you heard of her?

Fancy a review of this yet-to-be-launched novel? Just scroll down a bit then: there's one I prepared earlier.

I have booked on a charabanc. Stray is our driver, Badger is in charge of maps and Bobo The Hysteric is providing the in-car entertainment. It is always worth taking an hysteric with you on a long trip. I shall be bringing the picnic. Ms M just loves to feed people. (Whaddya make of that, Dr Freud?) I have heard that lots of bloggers will be there, as well as people who just love books, and even some people who like to write about people who write books. I have heard that there might be room for just a couple more, so long as you are little.

So, like I said, an uneventful week ahead for me.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

In Search Of Adam...

Caroline Smailes has written a novel. I would be surprised if anyone who reads this blog has not come across Caroline's amazing story, of how her unassuming blog launched her beautiful first novel, but in case you haven't you can catch up with her story here.

I read her novel this week. I was blown away. With the story of Jude - a motherless, abused child on a quest to discover her roots - Caroline has produced the most moving piece of fiction I have read in a long time. The subject matter is not for the faint-hearted. Childhood sexual abuse, post-natal depression, self-harm and suicide are not topics that raise one's spirits. The prose, however, will fill your heart with sheer pleasure. Soak up the words. Each one is carefully chosen.

Caroline has beautifully crafted form and style to shape the content. The ‘what’ is presented simply. The ‘how’ is the stunning beauty of the book. The way we meet the book is precisely the way we meet a broken child. With patience, with work, with tolerance. By hearing the voice that lay underneath the words, chilling as those words are.

Jude doesn’t let you get close to her easily. Of course she doesn’t. That is how it is when you are a child abused. She tells you her story in stark, brutal sentences and you have to read between her words to find out who she is. But once you are alongside her, she slowly begins to reveal herself. You have to work hard. That is how it is for children like Jude.

Books can often make me cry. I have read Love In The Time Of Cholera umpteen times and I cry every single time. In Search Of Adam made me cry. I began to weep not at Jude’s story, but the beautiful way in which Caroline allows me to know it. I began to weep at the beauty of the voices within; at the emotion that is held within the words. I had to work to attune to Jude, but once you are attuned Caroline draws you in until you are deeply involved in Jude's reality. This is precisely how I would ‘do therapy’ with Jude. Caroline has the consummate skill of an experienced writer to recreate this process in fiction form.

Caroline is a linguist. She captures Jude's voice beautifully, and through Jude we come to know the world of the grown-ups. As Jude grows, the voices begin to layer and layer until the book is dense with texture and meaning. Her use of language and poetry is exquisite. I was reminded of some of the Anglo-Indian writers: Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy. Quite some going for a first time novelist.

Caroline will be reading from her novel at Waterstone's in Deansgate, Manchester, on Thursday 14 June at 7pm. Don't miss it. I suspect it's the start of something big.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Yummy Mummies...

Something has gotten under my skin today. I shan't tell you what it is. I wondered whether to blog it, and then remembered that I already had, back in the days when I didn't have any readers. First aired in November, now to be found on UK Gold.


What a monster we have created.

Who decided that we should professionalise motherhood? Don’t get me wrong, I object to the double shift that most women work as much as the next card carrying feminist, and I have always believed that raising our children should go down as our best achievement as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil. But when our sisters in the sixties and seventies fought for the private sphere to be made political – and for women’s work in the home to be recognised as, indeed, work - did they realise they were tilling the ground for the emergence of a new form of child abuse in the form of the career-mother? I suspect not.

Everybody knows one. The stay-at-home mother who feeds her pre-school child on a diet of Tumble Tots, Monkey Music and Play Group For The Gifted Child, followed by an hour of Mozart, a soupçon of French for toddlers, and some basic pre-verbal algebra. They relax by making pictures with macaroni or baking organic, wholemeal fairy cakes and the day hasn’t ended successfully until daddy has read a chapter from ‘Homer: the Picture Book’. The poor child ends another day wondering whether it has made the grade.

Do they realise that, as mother subjects them to yet another round of work toddler stylee, she is doing this out of love? I suspect not. Do they somehow recognise that mother is doing this out of a desire to offset her own fears of inadequacy? That their own emotional needs are secondary? Eventually, I suspect, they do.

Just for the record, children (in particular very small children) require relationship above all else. Over-structuring their time leaves little room for the spontaneous development of attachment that will provide the blue print for all of their later relationships. That is not to say that intellectual stimulation and structure are not important. But they really should take second place to the child’s capacity to experience itself in relation to a loving and accepting other. Sitting with your child in front of CBeebies, chatting and taking pleasure in their pleasure, is, ironically, probably far better for their emotional development than any number of outings to Professional Toddler Stimulation plc.

You know who you are. Please just stop it.

PS. I have a friend of a friend who is über Yummy Mummy. Her husband is a surgeon. She refuses to do his washing or ironing (she does her own and the children’s) and hires a cleaner on the grounds that ‘my job is motherhood’. I must admit – child development issues aside - I can’t help but admire her chutzpah.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Funny How Things Remind You...

Whenever you get back from Italy you think there is no point ever cooking again, you will never recreate such lovely food....

Says nmj

I am inclined to agree.

She reminds me of the time we emerged from a jungle track in Costa Rica, to see a sign in Italian:

Pizza! Al Forno di Legno!

We had driven through a 'monkey trail' in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, in search of a secluded beach about which we had been told. Playa Prieta is a beautiful white sand beach edged by the jungle and buffeted by huge pacific waves. It is a paradise if ever there was one. If you are really lucky, howler monkeys will visit, curious to investigate your presence. Even in high season you are unlikely to see any visitors there apart from a handful of local people. It is too far off the beaten track for most tourists to bother.

Playa Prieta

'Monkey trails' are the rough tracks that cut through the jungle of the Guanacaste region, and offer shortcuts for the very brave from one main road to the next. 'Main road' is something of a misnomer in Costa Rica. Anything but the Pan American highway is nothing more than a dirt track, full of potholes and very slow going. The monkey trails are so but with bells on. Cut through the jungle, they link small communities who are more used to travelling by horse back. These days most have vehicles, but you are a brave person to attempt it without a jeep, a spare wheel, a jack and the nouse to use it. Or a horse.

We forded rivers, scrambled over tree stumps, went eeny-meeny-miney-mo at every junction and, fingers crossed tightly, emerged at the small community of Portrero. And then I saw the sign.

Pizza! Al Forno di Legno!

My Italian is not great, but I knew that this meant pizzas baked in a wood burning oven. The Husband was beside himself. His favourite food ever - since a trip to Italy the previous year when my sister had introduced him to the sheer joy of a genuine Italian pizza - found on the edge of the Costa Rican jungle.

We stopped at the small hotel, owned by a family from Milan. They really did have a wood-burning oven, and the pizza was spectacular. Neither our Italian nor our Spanish were good enough to establish why they were living on the edge of the jungle in a remote part of Guanacaste. That was ok. It allowed us to make up their story as we ate our pizza.

We saw a turqoise-browed motmot as we left. I am a secret twitcher, and as I spied it through my binoculars I felt even more excited than I had the time I spotted a migrant hoopoe in Anglesey.

Turqoise-browed motmot

A few days later we saw a Jabiru, after a very arduous three hour drive along the roughest of roads and a change of wheel at the roadside. It was well worth it. This is a monster of a wading bird, at almost four foot high, and from a distance looks like a little old man in an overcoat.

The magnificent jabiru

Costa Rica is a very special place. They welcome tourists - their economy depends upon it - and yet they remain committed to sustainable tourism and protecting their natural inheritance. We were woken by howler monkeys each morning at 5am. We saw Iguanas sunning themselves in the midday sun as we drank our pipas frias, and fireflies lighting up the bush at night. We saw huge Olive Ridley Turtles clambering up the beach at night, and tiny turtles making their way back to the sea.

Iguana, sunning itself

The pipas frias seller in Playa del Coco

And Portero has the most wonderful pizza al forno di legno.