Year: 2014

Judith Kerr: ‘You have to make a plan for the day’

“Radio Times: You’re 91. What’s the secret to a long and successful working life? Judith Kerr: You have to make a plan for the day. I get started at 10.30am. At lunchtime, I have a Martini Rosso on ice which keeps me awake in the afternoon. In the evening, I go for an hour’s walk along the Thames. It helps me to think. When I get home, I have a whisky. I’ve done more work since Tom [Judith’s husband, Quatermass screenwriter Thomas Nigel Kneale] died eight years ago than I did before because otherwise there’s this emptiness.” We read a fair number of Mog stories round here, and I keep thinking that T must nearly be ready for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (which the Radio Times reveals might be adapted by the BBC), so I was really excited to see this year’s Christmas Radio Times cover. But then, just as my brother & I used to as children, T disappeared with it & spent many happy hours poring over the Christmas TV listings. She …

Merry & bright

We’re settling down, cosying in. The kitchen is the busiest room in the house. From here at the kitchen worktop I can see no less than three dishes in progress: my spanakopita, B’s bread sauce (for Christmas Day) & a beef stew in the oven. The clementine cake is cooling behind me, and next up is icing the Christmas cake. Granma has arrived with supplies of mince pies. The Pip-Pop is napping, and the others have been whisked off to the library. I’ve got my eye on the sofa. It’s almost four & nearly dark, but in the early afternoon, if the sun is shining, it’s just the place to be. Tilly thinks so too. Maybe just a few minutes with a book before anything needs stirring or anyone needs getting up/letting back in. Wishing you a happy & calm time over the holidays — and hopefully even your own few minutes alone with a book. Thanks so much for being here this year. My Christmas wish has definitely come true. x

To renounce the vanity

“One must be terribly old, Margot said to me one day, to renounce the vanity of living under someone’s gaze.” The Vagabond, Colette On Wednesday I lifted recipe books and Christmas magazines from the shelf in the kitchen & sat at the table, coffee in hand, planning what to cook over the holidays. Clementine cake & stollen. Chestnut stuffing & aubergine moussaka. I was listening to Joni Mitchell & when she got to ‘River‘ everything was just so perfect that all I wanted to do was share it with someone. For years I’ve only known half of the Colette quote. ‘To renounce the vanity of living under someone’s gaze’ is the epigraph to Drusilla Modjeska’s wonderful fictional biography of her mother, Poppy, and I’ve always associated the quote with the maternal gaze. I sometimes think that one of the best things I can aim for as a parent is simply to supply that gaze — to be the one who will always be interested. The way Modjeska pieces together her mother’s life from scraps and imaginings …

Bluets

“I will admit […] that writing does do something to one’s memory — that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve.” from Bluets by Maggie Nelson On Saturday afternoon the winter sun filled the living room with long slants of light and I stretched out on the sofa & read the whole of Bluets, a pencil in my hand, a cat on my lap. Oh what rare bliss! To read a book in a single sitting and follow the wandering path of someone’s thoughts from start to finish. A small boy with a ‘deep cough’ lay on the rug beside me building an intricate system of cogs and asking a question for each of the 95 pages of the book, but that didn’t take away from my pleasure. Bluets is a poet’s meditation on blue — “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color”. Nelson weaves art, science and philosophy …

We don’t get to choose

“At a job interview at a university, three men sitting across from me at a table. On my CV it says that I am currently working on a book about the color blue. I have been saying this for years without writing a word. It is, perhaps, my way of making my life feel “in progress” rather than a sleeve of ash falling off a lit cigarette. One of the men asks, Why blue? People ask me this question often. I never know how to respond. We don’t get to choose what or whom we love, I want to say. We just don’t get to choose.” from ‘Bluets’ by Maggie Nelson It’s got to that point in December when it seems we’re burning through the days, just like Maggie Nelson’s lit cigarette. There was a period, earlier in the month, when I thought that there was plenty of time. Now I’m just waiting for the ash to fall, for the year to turn. Which makes it sound like I’m not looking forward to Christmas. And …

The Gin Closet

“I found poems that might lend my life a sense of gravity. I read them in the near-dark, trying to pass the time so I wouldn’t go to bed at such embarrassingly early hours. When you are old and grey and full of sleep…My throat was gritty with wine; anger rose like phlegm. How could anyone write those words once they’d seen aging for themselves? But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,/And loved the sorrows of your changing face. What did young Yeats know about the bodies of old women, how their pubic hair turned ashen between the sticks of their thighs?” Alcoholism; anorexia; abortion; the female body — pain of, aging of, desire of; family — secrets of, estrangement from, dysfunction of; sex — prostitution, affairs, consensual; the American West; displacement, rootlessness; the loneliness of the city. And that’s just for starters. It sounds like a lot for a first novel to carry, but The Gin Closet does it with grace and heartbreaking beauty. I’d been intimidated by Leslie Jamison. By the …

Dear Sarah

This week I made my first submission. This week I also received my first rejection. It snuck into my inbox while I was upstairs bathing children. Recently, I’ve been thinking about my working life. A succession of jobs that involved writing in one form or another, but didn’t involve my name. I’ve worked for an MP and ghostwritten articles & speeches. I’ve worked for an organisation where everything I wrote reflected the views of its eminent Fellows and was phrased in the first person plural. I’ve worked in a Government department where my words and phrases were put into the mouths of Ministers and printed in glossy policy documents, but my own name was invisible. In all these places (with the exception of the MP), there have been layers of sign-off; a hierarchy of people modifying or agreeing with my words and approving their release into the world. And, for the most part, I found that frustrating. But now, I also think that these were the jobs I chose. The places I felt comfortable. The …

We love: This Little Baby

I don’t know how many copies of This Little Baby we’ve got through in seven years as parents. I found three copies in various book baskets around the house this morning & I know that I’ve had to recycle at least one copy due to an over-enthusiastic reader who decided to literally gobble it up. My love for it is unashamed nostalgia. Each of my children has adored its simple rhymes, its black and white photos of babies, and its surprise mirror ending. An ending, I might add, that I’ve often had to change to ‘these are the babies I love the very best’ as children lean over the book for a glimpse of themselves in the mirror. (For complete accuracy, I also add my own enthusiastic ‘waa, waa, waaaa!’ to the page with the baby who makes lots of noise.) It’s a book that has stayed the course from the very earliest days of our parenthood. A book that I know by heart & probably always will. Reading it in his cot last week …

Solitude

“It is in a house that one is alone. Not outside it, but inside. Outside, in the garden, there are birds and cats. […] One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in — of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From this light as well, and from the garden. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.” Marguerite Duras, Writing Still thinking about these words, which I first read a few weeks ago in a car full of sleeping children. Yes, we create our own solitude. Or — and how to stop doing this? — we prevent our own solitude. Of course, I was afraid, …

We love: giving special | Part II: colouring & activity books

After last week’s round-up of gift books, here’s a little collection of colouring & activity books that would be perfect for Christmas giving. I love a good colouring book. One that encourages exploration & creativity, but gives confidence and structure — a starting point for little hands & minds to build on. Paper & crayons are great, but sometimes it’s lovely to have something special to work on, and, as a parent, having a colouring book up your sleeve (metaphorically at least) can save the day on rainy days, snuffly days, or don’t-know-what-to-do-days. Here are a few of our favourites. 1.  The Scribble Book by Hervé Tullet. Big, beautiful & fun for even the youngest of artists. This would be my choice for those around 2/3 years+. Tullet is also the author of some fantastically fun interactive (in a low-tech way!) board books like Press Here and The Game of Finger Worms which are also great for younger children. 2. The Colouring Book by Hervé Tulle. What are the right colours for happy people? For sad …