Fiona and Philippa at Brompton Library have been reviewing some of the books long and shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. The winner was announced on Wednesday, and Fiona is back with her… More
Female medical students currently outnumber their male counterparts in the UK. This is a situation that would have seemed incredible to the earliest female doctors.
In 1865, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first British woman to qualify to practice medicine. (The first woman, that is, since Dr James Barry, who though born female, lived her adult life as a man so that she could practice medicine from 1815, her secret only being discovered after her death.) Even with her qualification, Anderson was excluded from work in any hospital. She set up her own practice and launched a remarkable career in medical work, and in the furtherance of women in the profession and in wider society.
However, the battle for women to become doctors was very far from over. It is difficult for us to appreciate how strongly, and with what sometimes vicious misogyny, women’s entry into the profession was resisted well into the 20th century. A medical career was considered by the male establishment to be far too physically arduous and intellectually rigorous for any woman’s capabilities. All kinds of quasi-medical theories were propounded in support of this view – all the more bizarre when you consider that these were often expressed by highly educated men in the scientific community: they included the idea that too much study would cause a woman’s womb to atrophy.
These prejudices were enshrined in the regulations of the most important medical institutions. During the first half of the century, women were still barred from training at the major hospitals – with the sole exception of the Royal Free, where Garrett Anderson had established the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874. Although for some women, the shortage of men during the First World War around the time that they qualified provided a timely career-boost, allowing them access to institutions that were forced in desperation to admit them. Between the wars, it was still common for job advertisements in the British Medical Journal to specify that women need not apply.
In 1911, Marie Curie won her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Apparently unmoved by her achievements, Sir Henry Butlin, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, delivered a lecture in the same year in which he stated unequivocally that he believed women to be unsuited to medical research. An indication of how slow attitudes were to change is that 30 years later, in 1941, Sir Robert Hutchison, President of the Royal College of Physicians, told female medical students “medical women make excellent wives, while their qualification is always a second string to their bow.”
Against this background, the achievements of the early female doctors are all the more impressive, and we are pleased this month to be able to display fascinating biographies and memoirs of many of them (from our Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library), as well as those of contemporary women doctors writing about the stresses and joys of their chosen career.
We are also delighted to tell you about an exciting event linked to this display: on Monday 18 June, 6 to 7.30 pm here at Kensington Central Library, Dr Abby Waterman will be discussing her compelling memoir “Woman in a White Coat”. This is a wonderful read which describes with great humour and honesty her journey from an impoverished girlhood in the East End to a wide-ranging medical career.
You can book a free place to this event via Eventbrite
The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library
To celebrate 2018 being the centenary of women’s right to vote, we are reviewing one book a month by an inspiring female author.
This month’s book is ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
‘Beloved’ is set in America just after slavery was abolished. It is inspired by the supposedly true story of a woman who killed her child rather than have her taken back into slavery. Sethe, a former slave, and her daughter Denver encounter a mysterious woman called Beloved. She comes to live with them and as they discover more about her they believe she is the ghost of the child Sethe murdered. ‘Beloved’ is about being haunted, struggling with identity and attempting to escape the past.
I think it is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. The way Toni Morrison contrasts the beauty of her language and the brutality she describes is very striking. This book stays with you long after you finish it.
The story is told through the flashbacks of several characters, which can make the plot difficult to follow at times but I think it is worth it for Morrison’s unique writing style.
If you have read ‘Beloved’ I’d recommend the other two books that were intended to be read as part of the same trilogy. The second book is ‘Jazz’ which is set in Harlem during the jazz age and has one of the most intense opening scenes. The third book is ‘Paradise’ which is about a brutal attack in a convent in 1970s America. None of the books feature the same characters, but they all deal with the same recurring themes.
See you in June for the next review.
Philippa, Brompton Library
A post from our Service Development Manager, Angela Goreham – about what RBKC Libraries have to offer.
R Research for a project that interests you
B Booking a PC, a place at an event
K Knowledge as we all need this
C Connect (to others in the community and the wide world)
L Lending items for your pleasure or information
I Information that will help you with your day to day or forward planning
B Baby activities and information to help new parents
R Reading – a core skill and past time in any format
A Access us at any time and from anywhere
R Resources – varied and plentiful, in different formats to suit different needs
Y Young and old – we’re here for everyone
Are you 1 in 840,344? Or maybe you are 1 in 515,004? They’re odd numbers you might say, but the first one is the number of times the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s libraries were visited between April 2017 and March 2018 and the second is how many items were borrowed during the same period – how many did you account for?
104 people from our local communities supported the Library Service by volunteering with us and over 40,000 people came to one of the events that we held.
They are huge numbers but we always want to beat our previous year’s figures so please come along to one of our libraries, find out what we can do for you and you can help us pass last year’s numbers.
There are six libraries within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – find out more about them and what we offer by either visiting us in person or our website or you can call us on 020 7361 3010.
This is guest blog post from Liz Ison. She works for The Reader and looks after the Book Break reading groups that run in Kensington and Chelsea . Over to Liz to tell us more…
Do you love stories, poems and great literature?
Would you like to find out what shared reading is?
Did you know that there are many shared reading groups going on in your local neighbourhood running every week?
Meet The Reader, an organisation that is passionate about the power of reading together.
We at The Reader are the pioneers of Shared Reading. The volunteer Reader Leaders who run our weekly groups, bring people together to read great literature aloud.
Groups are open to all, readers and non-readers alike. Come along and listen to stories and poems read aloud. It’s an opportunity to read and talk together in a friendly and relaxing environment. Free refreshments provided!
Our shared reading groups have been running locally for many years bringing shared reading to the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. We work in libraries, community centres and other organisations spreading the joy of shared reading.
Here are what our group members have to say about shared reading:
“I’ve felt really happy since the session with you —bought myself some flowers the next day…and went for a long walk while listening to music— all in one day. Our happy thoughts trigger happy chemicals in our brain.” Aysha
“An anchor during the week”
“It always makes me feel more fulfilled than the other days”
- 95 % look forward to the group as an important event in the week
- 84% think the reading session makes them feel better*
Here are some groups to try in our local libraries:
Brompton Library – Tuesday, 10.30am to 12 noon
Chelsea Library – Tuesday, 2.30 to 4pm
Kensington Central Library – Tuesday, 2 to 4pm
North Kensington Library – Thursday, 3 to 5pm
North Kensington Library – Saturday, 10.30am to 12 noon
We look forward to welcoming you to a group soon. To find other shared reading groups in your area you can contact:
Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07483 972 020
Liz at email@example.com or call 07807 106 815
More information is on the The Reader website too.
And if you’d be interested in volunteering with us, get in touch!
* 2017 Reader evaluation data for Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea shared reading groups
Free Comic Book Day is an international celebration of all things comics – taking place on the first Saturday in May, it is a day where new titles are released and shops offer a giveaway of free issues – our libraries are taking part, courtesy of those lovely folks at Forbidden Planet
The day is perfect for both collector fanatics and those who are picking up a comic for the first time.
Kensal Library will be hosting a special event on the day – make your very own superhero mask. This will be at 3 to 4pm and it’s a free event for children of all ages.
Explore all this and more at one of our libraries and don’t forget to ask staff for your free comic book. We have three titles to give out, while stocks last – head on in before missing out. You’ll discover characters from the DC Universe including Superhero girls, Doctor Who, plus look out for the exclusive DC Nation!
Why not also check out the graphic novel selection? or the new release DVDs available while you are there and see what else your local Kensington and Chelsea library has to offer?
May’s display from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library showcases books related to the Spanish Civil War, as the Cityead London book this year is The Muse by Jessie Burton, a novel set partly during that time – and Cityread starts tomorrow, 1 May.
Obviously, we have picked from our shelves biographies of major political actors in the conflict, such as General Franco and the Republican President Caballero, as well as cultural figures with an association with the conflict, such as Picasso and Lorca, along with commentators such as Orwell. But we have also found that we have a fair number of volumes by or about the many ordinary people who fought in the conflict, particularly those volunteers from overseas who joined the International Brigades on the Republican side.
The Spanish Civil War is widely viewed as the prelude to the Second World War, happening as it did between 1936 and 1939, and consequently as predominantly a conflict between Democracy and Fascism. However, on closer examination, things seem much more complicated – so complicated that Biography Store team have almost despaired of writing anything brief and coherent on this topic.
The history of Spain for the hundred or so years before the outbreak of the war is very complicated but arguably characterised by extreme internal instability following the loss of nearly all of the Spanish empire in the Americas by the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. This was followed by attempts to modernise in competition with the other European states on a new basis. But Spain remained very underdeveloped compared to these other states in the early twentieth century, economically, socially, and politically, so that the hardship suffered in the Great Depression led to fresh instability and ultimately the War.
This was broadly between on the one side the conservative, pro-church, Army-backed “Nationalist” forces supported by Nazi Germany and Italy and on the other the Republican coalition of liberals, socialists, anarchists, and communists, which was backed by the Soviet Union, though the Republican side was far from entirely united. In this sense, one could see the war as a repeat (but with a very different outcome) of the Russian Civil War, rather than as a prelude to the Second World War. Nevertheless, the rather half-hearted support for the Republic by the Soviet Union and the non-intervention of the ‘Western’ powers can be seen as cautious foreign policy positions – wishing not to provoke premature outright confrontation with the Axis powers.
Do come into the library and take a look, and also check out our Cityread London events that are happening this month.
The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place later today (Monday 23 April), which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website
Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first and second part here
We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
A Berlin Love Song is about a travelling circus. What’s so alluring about circuses?
I love the circus. I’ve always found it romantic although I’m a great animal lover and I’m very glad we don’t use performing animals any more. Research into the circus in Germany was one of the most enjoyable parts of my research for the book. It was light relief from the Auschwitz research and what it was like to be bombed and how it felt to be in a tank during a horrific battle. There was so much I had to read that was upsetting, so learning about how to fly the trapeze and ride horses bareback was something of a relief. I actually watched the most amazing film about the Flying Codonas called Swing High that you can see on You Tube so I have actually seen Alfredo Codona perform his triple somersault. I also saw him perform it in the film Vaudeville where the Codonas were doubles for the actors. I watched this particular sequence over and over again when I was trying to describe what it looked like and what it felt like to be up in the dome of the Wintergaten Theatre in Berlin about to swing out over the audience below. I also thoroughly enjoyed researching Fredy Knie, the owner of the Swiss Circus where my characters find employment during the war. His circus really did appear at the Wintergarten during the winter of 1942/43 when the Wintergarten was bombed. He really was in his twenties at the time and one of the most famous horse trainers in Europe. He had a reputation for kindness to animals and that’s why he got on so well with Lili and her family. I hope I’ve done his blessed memory justice in my fictitious portrayal of him.
When I was a girl I loved the song: Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher. I used to lie in bed at night listening to it on my record player and imagining the life of a travelling show. If you look at the beginning of the chapter in A Berlin Love Song called Circus Petalo you might hear strains of this great song:
I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show
My momma used to dance for the money they’d throw
Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of doctor good
Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down …
My chapter entitled Circus Petalo begins: I was born in a wagon in the middle of a show, amid the smell of canvas and sawdust, greasepaint and cheap perfume …
What were the hardest aspects of creating this book? What were the most satisfying?
The hardest thing about creating this book was the amount of really gruelling research I had to do – research that kept me awake at nights and sometimes made me despair of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man and what seemingly ‘normal’ people are capable of doing to each other is always horrifying and sometimes I felt I couldn’t read another word about the subject. My visit to Auschwitz was harrowing, especially as I had by that time read so much about the camp that my imagination was running riot.
Then when I started writing, I had the very difficult task of how to express this horror and suffering in a story that on the one hand shone a light on this ghastly subject but was also uplifting and hopeful. Because during my research into the Holocaust I also came across so many stories of heroism, true selflessness and hope in that darkest of times, that I felt I wanted to share with my readers. Working out how to combine together the two aspects of this heartbreaking time in a narrative, without belittling the one and over-romanticizing the other, was a real challenge for me. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope it not only raises awareness about a topic I feel has often been overlooked, the Romani Genocide, but also expresses my own world view – that it is and has to be possible to find hope, wonder and love in the midst of despair, degradation and hatred.
The most satisfying and enjoyable parts of writing this book were possibly recreating the folk Romani tales. I read lots of wonderful Romani folk tales but none of them seemed to fit exactly into my story so I set about using authentic ones but amalgamating and rewriting them for my own story. I didn’t feel bad about this because the nature of folk tales is that people pass them on with their own embellishments for their own reasons. Folk tales often reflect the concerns of a particular people at a particular time and so mine, whilst firmly rooted in the Romani tradition, have my own stamp on them. I really loved writing them. I also very much enjoyed writing the dialogue, particularly amongst the Hartmann children. I suppose as a mother of 4 young adults myself I have listened to countless family ‘disagreements’! I know how young people talk to each other and how merciless they can sometimes be in their teasing of each other – sometimes cruel. Writers usually have to use their imagination to create unknown worlds but I didn’t have to look much further than my own kitchen table for a rich source of dialogue for the Hartmann children!
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Sarah, and hope to see you at the event this evening. Do book a place – it’s free- via the link at the top.
Now well into its second decade, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is firmly established, is respected throughout the world and has made a major impact on the literary landscape in the UK and beyond. Here are some reviews of books that have been longlisted this year –
By Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant lives a quiet, isolated life and sticks to her routine. She eats the same things, wears the same clothes and keeps to herself. Then one day she helps a stranger and her world opens up. As she learns there is a lot more to life, we learn there is a lot more to Eleanor Oliphant.
Despite its sad subject matter, this was an entertaining and sometimes hilarious read. Eleanor is a perfect character: you laugh with her, you despair at her and you route for her the whole way.
By Joanna Cannon
Florence is eighty-six and living in Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. She is trying to behave herself and not forget so many things, helped all the time by her best friend Elsie. We learn two important things about Elsie quickly but it’s the third thing about her that makes this novel exceptional.
You can tell Joanna Cannon has a background in psychiatry as we really get to see inside the minds of the characters and she has some great insights on human nature.
By Nicola Barker
Mina A is H(a)ppy. Her and the rest of The Young live in a world without pain, want, fear or death. They all strive to remain in balance and avoid an excess of emotion. But when Mina A starts writing her own narrative, she struggles to maintain her feelings.
This was unlike anything I’d ever read before. The story argues with itself, desperately trying not to be told. It has a unique and unpredictable layout, where every page is a surprise.
The shortlist is due to be announced tomorrow, Monday 23 April.
Philippa, Brompton Library
The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist was announced last month. It’s an interesting collection of books, some for older children and some for younger, with one non-fiction entry. What they all have in common is that they are all beautifully illustrated, and the illustrations really add to the power of the story-telling and the information giving.
The winner will be announced on Monday 18 June, (along with the winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018) and here’s our thoughts about the chosen books –
The story of a boy as he goes about his day in the seaside town that he lives in. During his day, thinks about his father, below the sea, mining for coal. We see the underground and the over-ground life of the town. The story is beautifully brought to life by the illustrations and it’s easy to imagine that you are with him as he goes about his day. I found the book really engaging and the illustrations very much brought it to life.
A picture book showing different animals all living together under the same sky, and in the same ways as us. Very simple and moving.
A boy makes friends with an elderly neighbour who keeps and races pigeons. The man shows the boy how to handle the pigeons and gives him one of his own. He calls him “Re del Cielo”, King of the Sky. But can the pigeon with the milk-white head win a race?
The only non-fiction book on the shortlist, this large book with full page illustrations, takes the reader through the wonderful world of animals. Including specific breeds, as well as insects and even coral with some information about eggs, how animals find water and animal home. The illustrations are bright and colourful and the text is written in an entertaining way while packing in many facts! I think this book has been created really well with young children in mind and they would find it very engaging. A keepsake book that can be looked at again and again.
This book was very intriguing. A combination of diary entries and illustrations, the book tells the story of two girls living in the same place but 30 years apart. One girl is living in an orphanage and being bullied and the other lives in a house opposite and often finds herself home along while her dad is it work. She can’t resist exploring the old orphanage and the two girls become linked, even though they never knew each other. It’s a dark tale and the format and the black and white illustrations suit the story. Creepy in parts and sometimes very sad. I wanted to keep reading and I wanted to know what happened. I liked the unusual format but I thought the story would have been richer if the written parts were not only diary entries, or if there could have been pictures and writing for both characters.
This book is very powerful and very simple. Drawing on her own experiences, the author uses a dragon to show what it is like to fight depression. The book takes you into the heart of the pain and loneliness of the illness and brings you out of the other side. A very helpful book to give young sufferers hope and to let them know that they are not alone.
This book deals with similar themes to Thornhill – bullying, isolation and also includes black and white illustrations. What I liked about this book is that it shows that things pass, that we can find friendship in unusual places and that people and situations are not always what they seem. This is an engaging book with magical elements, brought to life by the illustrations.
Fiona, Brompton Library
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place next Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website
Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first part here
We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
How did you go about doing your historical research?
I’m meticulous about historical research. I try to be as historically accurate as I can. I’m very aware that sometimes a novel might be the only literature a reader will read about a subject, so I feel I have a certain obligation not to mislead. Of course, you can always say that a novelist isn’t a history teacher and if the reader wants to know about history they should read a history book – but I know lots of people who enjoy historical novels who wouldn’t read non-fiction.
I try to do as much research as I can. It helps me to create that ‘authentic voice’ that is so important to me. There are lots of excellent diaries and contemporaneous accounts written by Germans. I also read German newspapers from the time to see what was being reported and what sort of propaganda was out there. In addition to diaries and memoirs there is a mountain of black and white photographs and newsreel to watch, so finding out about clothes and how the streets of Berlin looked, for example, was not a problem. Sadly, there are also many pitiful photographs of Auschwitz. I visited Auschwitz more than once to see it for myself, but there are plenty of contemporaneous photographs too. Through this research, I was able to piece together in my own mind what Auschwitz must have looked like. When I was researching the Romanies I read as many accounts as I could find by Romanies who had been in Auschwitz and managed to escape or survive there to the end of the war. There are not many of these, but those I found I read avidly. I also bought a book when I was visiting Auschwitz – part of a series called Voices of Memory. It’s full of accounts by Romanies of what it was like to be incarcerated there.
I always go about my research in the same way. I start by simply reading. I read and read around the subject and as I do the plot begins to form in my imagination. I read serious history books about the period and memoirs written by real characters from the past. Gradually my characters start to emerge from the mist and then I create ‘character boards’ – A3 pieces of card with photographs and little bits of imagined dialogue, descriptions of how my characters might look, what they might have worn, and what their personalities might be like. I write reams of notes from books about all sorts of subjects which might or might not be relevant in the end. I have big A4 notebooks I buy from Rymans divided up with coloured dividers and I label each section. So for example, for A Berlin Love Song, I had sections entitled: Hitler Youth, the Hartmann family home, Air Raids, Music, Propaganda, Religion etc. I had a separate A4 note book for the war years, each year 1939 – 1945 having its own section. I then researched weather for every day of every year of the war. You can obtain weather reports for years gone by. The internet is wonderful! So, every day in my story has the correct weather and for the bombings the correct phases of the moon, and every bomb mentioned was dropped at the right time in the correct weather conditions. When writing about the bombing of Berlin, I listened to a really harrowing recording I found on YouTube of an Allied bombing raid, actually recorded in the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber as it flew from England to drop its bombs over Berlin. I found it terrifying, chilling, nauseating … words can’t describe how I felt as I listened to it. War is so terrible. It affected me for days.
Some of the accounts you must have read in order to illustrate what the characters in the book went through in the prison camps must have been very difficult to read. How did you cope with this?
It was very difficult. Sometimes I felt so sickened by what I read that I felt I couldn’t carry on with the research, especially when I came to the detailed research about Auschwitz. I suppose the way I coped with it was always to try to find the good people amidst the despair and horror of it all – the Jewish prisoner doctors who worked tirelessly to help their fellow prisoners and the few SS who tried to help people get on the transports out of the camp. Alongside the many accounts of inhumanity and degradation that I read, there were many stories of bravery and selflessness to counterbalance the despair that I sometimes felt. I tried to concentrate on the uplifting and nourishing stories of people who risked their lives to protect others, rather than on the stories of inhumanity. Many, many people collaborated with the Nazis, but there were also many in Germany who actively assisted victims by purchasing food for households to whom shops were closed, providing false identity papers for those at risk of arrest, and sheltering those who evaded capture. I hope that A Berlin Love Song ends with a message of hope.
Nazi Propaganda posters encouraging young people to join the Hitler Youth
Did you have the opportunity to speak with members of Hitler Youth and Romani survivors?
My father had a close friend, Pastor Knott, a German Lutheran pastor who he met after the war. My father got to know him when they were working together in Coventry on a post-war reconciliation project. Pastor Knott had been forced to join the Hitler Youth as a boy. His family were anti-Nazi but it was the law in Germany at that time that you had to join up. Your parents could be sent to concentration camps if you didn’t and children who didn’t join could be sent to orphanages. Pastor Knott spoke a lot about this when I was younger and I remember him well. When I was writing A Berlin Love Song I wished he’d still been alive for me to ask questions, but I did find a wonderful TV programme online about the HY and there were lots of old men talking about life in the HY, so I listened carefully to their interviews and took notes, and some of my dialogue and descriptions were inspired by these interviews.
I also read all the first-hand accounts of the war by Romanies that I could find, but I couldn’t find any living ones to speak to. The problem is that people who were teenagers in the war are now very old or will have already died. Also, I’d have needed to find them in Germany and I couldn’t manage that. However, I did find about 4 hours of recorded interviews with Dina Gottliebova, the Czech Jewish artist who worked in the Zigeunerlager – the Gypsy Family camp in Auschwitz. She was forced to paint portraits of the Roma for Dr Mengele for his book on genetic research. She was an old lady in the recordings but she spoke so vividly about her memories of the Roma and the Romanies she had known and painted that they came alive in my imagination. She was the most amazing, lovely, generous hearted woman, and the relationship she had with Lili in the novel was inspired by these interviews that I watched.
I also knew two Auschwitz survivors very well indeed. The mother of my best friend at university was a Polish Catholic intellectual who’d been in the Resistance and had come to England after the war. She was terribly badly affected by her experiences in Auschwitz. She suffered from serious depression for the rest of her life. Our next-door neighbours when I was a child growing up had also experienced life in a concentration camp. They were German Jewish refugees and Mr Adler had been in Auschwitz too. They were great friends of my parents. He was a very skilled dentist. It had a profound effect on me as a child – seeing a proud professional man with his own business cry when he talked about his experiences during the war.
We’ll be back next Monday with part III, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.