Friday, 20 May 2011

FLASH FICTION: The Bookseller

Right come in nice an’ close. That’s it, get a bit friendly – no need to tell the old man, right love?
I tell you what, and this is straight up, you’ll see bargains ‘ere today you ain’t gonna get a sniff of elsewhere. And I’m only ‘ere today. So don’t go down Oxford Street thinkin’ you’ll get a treat like this tomorrow. Nah come on love, don’t laugh, I do this for a livin’.
You wanna spend yer money in Selfridges, I’m sure they’d love to ‘ave it. Me, I’ve got books, whatever you like. You like your classics Miss, I can tell. Got a touch of the Brontes about you, bit pale know what I mean. I’ve got yer thrillers, yer love stories, yer modern literary classics. You wanna give us a bit of room, mate – these are people who actually read books. Only ‘avin a laugh. Right Bernie’s got the van round the back of Wigmore Street, so if there’s anything I ain’t got in me suitcase, chances are Bernie’ll sort it. So ‘ere we go.
I’ve got these, a collection of early twentieth century modernist classics, you’ve got yer Wasteland, yer Ulysees and a collection of Ezra Pounds’ cantos. I’m doin’ you a favour – it ain’t worth me chargin’ the thirty quid they’d want down Foyles, not even twenty. Tell you what love, put your money back in your purse, you ain’t gonna need all that. I’m not even askin’ a fiver each, ‘ere we go a tenner the lot. Thanks love – take the lady’s money Dave.
What about you sir, I seen yer lookin’ in me suitcase – anything take yer fancy?  What’s that? No mate, I don’t do them kind of books.
‘Ere we go, McEwans –  Saturday, Enduring Love, tell you what I’ll even chuck in Atonement, can’t say fairer than that. Right, I’m muggin’ meself here, but it’s one day only, get it while you can, where you can, am I right? Not twenty quid, not fifteen, not even askin’ a tenner. Yer McEwans – a fiver the lot. Thank’s love, and you sir, and you, and you, and you…
What’s that love, you’d rather go down Waterstones and get the real thing? S'up to you, but you'd be wasting your time...
Cos me and Bernie and Dave – we are Waterstones.  

Thursday, 5 May 2011

DISTANT WATER - Stories From Grimsby's Fishing Fleet

'Distant Water' front cover painted by Dale Mackie

Distant Water was launched this evening at Grimsby’s Fishing Heritage Centre.  A fair old gathering of former trawlermen, many of whom were interviewed for the book, made it along; some alone, others with their families. Above all, it was an evening to celebrate their working lives and to thank them for their contributions to the book.

When you take traditional historical research and bring it together with oral history, there comes a point in the writing process where, if the subject matter is good enough, you have to lose yourself. Your own narrative voice is given wholly to the mission of creating a deeper understanding of your interviewees’ lives.

For Distant Water, the memories of fishermen are told with such clarity and with a richness of language that the best you can do as a writer is to step back and allow the voices to speak. You shape their stories, tying up loose ends, making them work on the page and providing context whilst keeping faith with the narrative that emerges. But like any good documentary, the camera should always be on the subject. In this case, the unique lifestyle, work, culture and beliefs of fishermen living their lives at sea, one trip at a time.

It was our aim that Distant Water would add a realistic appreciation of this long lost way of life to the dozens of books about fishing already on local bookshop shelves. We wanted it to expose the levels of hardship few of us can imagine – some of the images we were able to use certainly do that, particularly the Grant/McKenzie photographs taken by the Sunday Pictorial photographer known as 'Mac of the Pic' in February 1959.  It was also important to explore and debunk some of the myths and stereotypes which inform our understanding of the industry, not just in Grimsby, but across the Humber as a whole.

At sea on the Grimsby Trawler Isernia in February 1959
(Grant/McKenzie collection - donated by Derek Grant)

One the most important outcomes of the Distant Water interviews is the way in which they provide some of the people we spoke to with an opportunity to make sense of their own experiences. It’s certainly important that they know their working lives are valued and not forgotten. I know that for a lot of them it feels that way.

In bringing the stories and memories together, capitalising on the oral traditions working people alongside detailed historical research, we hoped to create a greater understanding of Grimsby’s past and to give the men who went to sea the chance to tell their story of the industry which, for 150 years, was the measure of the town, its community and the region’s success.

Distant Water by Nick Triplow, Tina Bramhill and Sophie James is published by North Wall Publishing. The accompanying exhibition is at the Fishing Heritage Centre, Grimsby until the end of June.

Monday, 2 May 2011


In Jessie Lamb’s world there are no Thought Police or Republic of Gilead.  Her comfortable suburb of Manchester is entirely recognisable. Jane Rogers' eighth novel makes a point of co-opting the ordinary, the everyday world of scrambled eggs, mum and dad’s arguments, college relationships and teenage loyalties. However, in Jessie’s world – a few months into the future – women have been infected by a virus known as maternal death syndrome (MDS). Once MDS is contracted, any woman who becomes pregnant develops a fatal form of CJD, dying within days. The human race must confront its demise.
The novel has echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Children Of Men, but it is the 360-degree realisation of 21st century community in the process of fracture, told in the voice of an assured, intelligent 16 year old that makes Jessie’s story so captivating. This is a nightmare in waiting; society still functions as the adult world looks to science for solutions. But for groups of young people like Jessie, science is the cause. Their search for answers drives them into the arms of extremist groups, each of whom offers a form of protest against a single element of societal breakdown.  
As a parent, the novel resonates most powerfully with that moment you realise your own kids’ view of the world is fed by the complex reality of their own lives, entirely independent of your parental influence. The smart thing is to stand back and listen, however when Jessie makes a decision which could benefit humanity, but which her parents regard as a needless sacrifice, they cannot help but act on her behalf. The novel is at its most powerful handling the complex mix of young adult/parent relationships.
Much hangs on the reader’s relationship with Jessie as she fights to assert her independence, discovering her own sense of power to challenge adult conventions and certainties, particularly those of her geneticist father. She is not alone. Teenagers are increasingly drawn towards active protest; it is their world and their future adults have effectively destroyed.
Superficially, the most resonant aspect of The Testament Of Jessie Lamb might seem to be the fear of science getting out of control and creating a dystopian future for us all, but Jessie is such an engaging narrator that the novel offers far more than a pale ‘what if science screws up?’ scenario. The conclusion is both shocking and inevitable with power ultimately in Jessie’s hands.
The Testament Of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers is published by Sandstone Press.