Reality more astonishing than fiction

This is an epilogue to the Chelsea reading event – Reality more astonishing than fiction, where attendees asked me to recommend the WWI books about women that I used for my research.

We read extracts from letters and diaries – which were sad, feisty and funny.

Elsie Bowerman captured everybody’s imagination.  In the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Brown and Miss Bowerman clambered onto a moving train and saved the Scottish Women’s Hospital’s equipment.

Mabel Dearmer, author and illustrator, kept a diary and sent letters home from Kragujevac (Serbia) in spring 1915. She joined the Mabel Stobart’s Hospital unit. Her husband, Percy Dearmer served as a chaplain with the unit. Several women – nurses, doctors, orderlies – from various British medical missions died in Serbia during the typhus epidemic in 1915. Mabel Dearmer was one of them. See the extract from her letter from 6th June 1915.

Finally, if you would like to hear more about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis, come to my talk at Women’s Library, LSE, on 9th November, 1-2pm.

Our next Reading event is on Tuesday, 11th December at Chelsea Library, (contact the library for more details), where we will visit Mr Scrooge. Come and join us reading extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.

by
Zvezdana Popovic

 

 My recommended  book listWomen and WWI / Suffragists and Suffragettes

  • Kate Adie, Fighting on the home front. The legacy of women in World War One.
  • Lucinda Hawksley: March women march
  • Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers. Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
  • Elisabeth Shipton, Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

About Flora Sandes:

  • Louise Miller, A Fine brother. The life of Captain Flora Sendes, Alma Books, 2012.
  • (Book translated by LAGUNA “Naš brat”)

About Dr Elsie Inglis and Scottish Women’s Hospitals:

  • Leah Leneman: In the Service of Life. The story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1994.
  • Leah Leneman, Elsie Inglis. Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women, NMSE, 1998
  • Eileen Crofton : Angels of Mercy: A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914 1918, Birlinn Ltd, 2013.
  • Mikic, translated by Dr. Muriel Heppell: The Life and Work of Dr. Katherine S. MacPhail
  • Eva Shaw McLaren: Elsie Inglis. The woman with the torch.
  • Monica Krippner, The Quality of Mercy. Women at War. Serbia 1915-18.
  • Isabel Emslie Hutton: With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol.
  • Mabel Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere

Most of these books can be borrowed in local libraries and some of old ones can be read online, on the Project Gutenberg Free Books website.

Websites and documentary films

 

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Reality more astonishing than fiction reading event at Chelsea Library

According to Hastings Borough Council’s blue plaque, Elsie Bowerman (1889-1973) was a suffragette, barrister (first woman barrister at the Old Bailey) and a survivor of the Titanic disaster.
One thing that most people don’t know about her is that Elsie Bowerman joined Scottish Women’s Hospitals as a nurse and a driver in summer 1916 and went to Romania and Russia with the Serbian army.
Why Russia? Why the Serbian Army?
London Units of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (NUWSS) appealed for funds.
At the request of the Serbian Government the London Committee of Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service provided two New Field Hospitals and a Motor Transport Section to accompany the Serbian Division in Russia.
Elsie was twenty-six and thrilled when she begged her mother to let her go and drive for Scottish Women’s Hospitals.

Dear Mother,

Mrs Haverfield has just asked me to go out to Serbia at the beginning of August to drive a car. May I go? … I’ve been dying to go and drive a car ever since the war started… It is really a chance to go to the front. They want drivers so badly so do say yes. It is too thrilling for words.

These documents – Appeal for Funds, Elsie Bowerman’s private correspondence – and many thousands more, about (very much) neglected and (almost) forgotten events and people and whole fronts in the Great War, can be found in the archive collection of Women’s Library, LSE.
Meanwhile, if you are puzzled, come to our reading event on Tuesday 30 October, 6.30pm at Chelsea Library and discover more astonishing facts.
Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

Halloween party and make your own jokebox

To celebrate Halloween, we are having a party at Brompton Library this Saturday 27 October, 2 to 3pm.

We will be making skeletons, playing spooky games, blowing up balloon ghosts and telling Halloween jokes with our own jokebox!  We have some great prizes and lots of special treats so why not come along? Book your free place here on Eventbrite

Here is our Halloween jokebox that you can print out and play with at home –

How to make the Halloween jokebox:

  1. Print out the image above
  2. Cut along the dotted line
  3. Turn over so that pictures are on the table are face down
  4. Fold all corners into the centre
  5. Turn back over so that the pictures are facing up and fold the corners into the middle again
  6. Fold in half so that the pictures are on the outside and the questions are on the inside
  7. Put your fingers in the corners to open out.

We hope you enjoy making that and hope to see you at our party this Saturday!

Fiona, Brompton Library

Books to films: The Little Stranger

This month, Fiona from Brompton Library is reviewing Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger which has just been released as a film and will be read and discussed by the library’s reading group in November.

The book

Set in post-war rural Warwickshire, Dr Faraday is called to attend a sickly maid at Hundreds Hall who believes that the house is haunted. Faraday has a sentimental attachment to the house as his mother had been in service their as a maid and once took him there when he was a child to a garden party where he was presented with a medal by the lady of the house, Mrs Ayers. As Faraday gets closer to the Ayers family, events start to unravel. Strange and inexplicable happenings that suggest a ghost from the past is haunting the family and as their financial situation worsens and the house starts to fall apart around them, the “haunting” intensifies.

Behind the story of the house is also a love story between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday and behind all of it is the story of post-war Britain, the introduction of the NHS and how that changed the lives of ordinary people. There is a strong contrast between the lives of the Ayers family at Hundreds Hall where, in the decaying house, guests dress formally for dinners served to them by a maid while local people, still wary of modern medicine, are dying young from curable ailments and too poor to be able to pay the doctor.

The book is a gripping read. I read half of its 500 pages on a flight and was completely engaged by the writing, the atmosphere and the story. The relationship between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday is beautifully written and touchingly awkward and I liked the way the book dealt with several themes at once while remaining a really good story well told, and very creepy in parts. At one point, Dr Faraday says “All this house needs is a dose of happiness”. You get a sense that they are both so lonely in their different ways and that everything could change for them if they could make it work. I felt that the more a I read the book the more I also wanted the house to be rescued and saved from ruin as the Dr does. It works really well that Waters does not use tricks to build up the adrenalin of the story and the overall pace is one of gradual decline, so if you are wanting to read a ghost story this may not be for you, and the end has a twist that creeps up on you so quietly that you almost can’t quite believe it.

The film

The film brings the book to life visually. It really captures how I imagined the house to look – its interiors are perfectly done and the view of the house from the road leading up to it were very evocative of the book. The house is very grey and you get a sense that the seasons change outside while the house is stuck in time. Although billed as a horror, the film leaves out much of the references to ghosts that are made in the book, but is more like a ghost story. As the film is much shorter than the book, the suspense builds much more quickly and there were some chilling moments, but on the downside it meant that we didn’t spend much time with the characters or see their relationships develop.

Charlotte Rampling is perfect as Mrs Ayers while saying very little, she appears icy and fleeting throughout the house. Ruth Wilson is great as Caroline Ayers, bringing to life the earthy and practical daughter of the house who holds the story together. The casting of Domhnall Gleeson let the film down a bit for me. Dr Faraday is in his 40s in the novel which lends a fatherly aspect to the middle-aged, unmarried doctor that would not be possible between Gleeson and Wilson as they are of a similar age (he may even be younger than her). He came across as cold and remote at the same time but lacked the warmth and drive of the Dr Faraday of the book and I wasn’t rooting for him like. Overall it’s not a bad adaptation with some great acting, a few chills and shocks and is visually very true to the book.

Brompton Library’s reading group will be discussing the book on Tuesday 6 November so why not join us? You can borrow a copy at any of our libraries.

Fiona, Brompton Library

 

The adventures of a reading group

A researcher working for a BBC World Service series, The Why Factor, contacted us to meet a book group for their latest programme “Why we forget the things we have learned“.

The Why Factor is a BBC Radio magazine programme, a series of 25 minute shows that mixes vox pop and academic specialists, brought together by a presenter.

We arranged for the show’s producer to talk to local book group members (who kindly agreed to participate), and we all met in Brompton Library’s Meeting Room .

Rather shyly, members of our group answered questions fired by the producer who held a huge microphone attached to a tiny recorder. A couple of us (blink and you miss us) were edited into the first couple of seconds of the programme before the show segued into the main essay.

ReadingAdventure
But what was most important, Brompton Library got a mention – and the programme itself was quite interesting.

I was greatly encouraged by some of the observations about forgetfulness made in the programme. Apparently forgetfulness can be the result of a creative brain flying around taking in all sorts of sensory information which can later be selected from, unless it has been forgotten …. When we are in our book group, reading novels, we are turning over the plot and sharing feelings about the characters, etc., but we are also using our creative brains, employing our memories to add snippets of our own knowledge and experience. We are finding new ways of seeing – being curious. In this way, though discussion, people can renew their interest in the novel, go back and re-read it or, if they had not quite got to the end, decide to try again and even finish it!

Quite often a good book encourages interest in the author. For example, recently, having read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, members of the group were able to take their interest further by accessing and reading Hermione Lee’s fascinating account of Fitzgerald’s personal and literary life – which is available from our wonderfully maintained biography store at Kensington Central Library.

With a good public library service everyone can be a researcher! Please try to remember that ….

To find out more please visit the BBC website 

Penny, Brompton Library

Interview with Andrew Cartmel: part 2

Andrew Cartmel will be at Brompton Library on Monday 24 September, 6.30pm taking about his career and work and signing copies of his Vinyl Detective crime novels – Written in Dead Wax, The Run Out Groove and Victory.  You can book a place here on Eventbrite 

This is the second part of our interview with him; you can find the first part here

The fourth book is on its way, tell us about that.

It’s called Flip Back and it deals with the British psychedelic folk scene of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Among my research for that I read an excellent book called White Bicycles by Joe Boyd.

What were some of your musical inspirations from the 60s and 70s?

Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell.

I read in another interview with you that each of the Vinyl Detective novels has a spirit animal.  How does that help you with writing the novels and why is this important to you?

It’s just something that arose without me thinking about it. I am fascinated by animals and wildlife, and very fond of them, and appalled by their treatment at the hands of humans. So that just sort of naturally wove its way into my writing. When I became aware of what I was doing, I made it more deliberate. And started referring to it by that ‘spirit animal’ malarkey… though it’s certainly malarkey I genuinely subscribe to.

Are there any plans to make the books into a TV series or film?

My agent regularly gets enquiries, which have so far led to one serious meeting but nothing further than that.

And finally, we can’t leave without mentioning Doctor Who.  You worked as a show runner and script editor on the TV series, and have since written many of the Doctor Who comics.  What was it like to work on such a classic show?

It was a privilege. It was also the gift which keeps on giving, in the sense that it’s given me a calling card which never expires, and has led to me meeting a lot of interest people and travelling all over the world.

Were you a fan before you worked on the show?

No.

You have written novels, audio dramas, television scripts, graphic novels and also several stage plays.  Which genre do you prefer?

Each has its own particular appeal and its own unique challenges. I like switching from one to the other. But my two favourites are the novel, for its intimacy and clarity of expression, and the stage play for the magic it conjures up through taking place in real time, with real people, in a shared space.

The graphic novel Sabrina by Nick Drnaso has been longlisted for the Booker Prize this year.  How easy or difficult do you think it might be to judge a graphic novel against a traditional novel?

I don’t see how you can compare the two forms.

 What three pieces of advice would you give any aspiring writers out there?

Keep your covering emails very brief. Give your characters interesting names. Have your work read by people you know, whom you can trust to be ruthless — or at least honest — and seriously consider their feedback before you send it out and waste the time of an agent or editor.

What’s next for you?

Finishing the fourth Vinyl Detective, then rewriting a stage play, then writing a new stage play, then writing a graphic novel for the Rivers of London series, which I co-write with Ben Aaronovitch.

Thank you for your time Andrew and very much looking forward to meeting you on 24  September at Brompton Library.

Interview with Andrew Cartmel: part 1

Andrew Cartmel was the show runner on Doctor Who for the entire Sylvester McCoy seventh Doctor era. He has written many novels and graphic novels including the Dr Who comics Evening’s Empire and The Good Soldier. Andrew is currently collaborating with author, Ben Aaronovitch on writing the bestselling Rivers of London comics.

He’ll be at Brompton Library on Monday 24 September, 6.30pm taking about his career and work and signing copies of his Vinyl Detective crime novels – Written in Dead Wax, The Run Out Groove and Victory.  You can book a place here on Eventbrite 

In the meantime, Andrew has very kindly answered some questions for us –

Tell us about the Vinyl Detective series.

I’ve been writing for most of my life, in our form or another. Since I left university I’ve been writing for a living, or at least trying to. But the Vinyl Detective books are the first time I feel I’ve entirely succeeded.

The Vinyl Detective is very evocative of the day to day realities of city life – grass verges, council estates, broken boilers – not glamorous or exotic in any way!  It is definitely different to what you have called the current trend for “Danish disembowelment” novels.  Why was this setting important to you?

I wanted to write what I know. You might also call it low-hanging fruit!

I have read that you are an avid vinyl fan, what made you want to write detective novels based around vinyl?

My friend Ben Aaronovitch had written what became a bestselling series of novels — The Rivers of London books. I asked him what the secret was. He told me to write about what I genuinely loved. And I genuinely love record collecting, and crime fiction.

Andrew with his cat, Molly

What was the first record you bought?

The soundtrack to (the first version of) Casino Royale featuring a superb music score by Burt Bacharach and a knock-out song (‘The Look of Love’) sung by Dusty Springfield. It’s a classic and it remains a favourite of mine.

And what was the last record you bought?

Stan Tracey’s Jazz Suite to Under Milk Wood (inspired by the Dylan Thomas poem). The original Lansdowne mono pressing, of course.

You didn’t start out in crime fiction, what where some of the influences that lead you into crime writing?

I admire Raymond Chandler a lot, but for my money the greatest crime writer of the golden age (roughly the 1930s and 1940s) was Dashiell Hammett. His terse, cynical, realistic style hasn’t dated at all (read The Maltese Falcon). But a more profound influence came somewhat later. John D. MacDonald is, I think, the finest crime writer of them all. He’s a hero of mine. He wrote dozens of excellent novels, notably the Travis McGee series. More recently, I tremendously admire Thomas Harris, best known for creating Hannibal Lecter.

You must have spent a lot of time researching the books, tell us about that?

A lot of it is, as I said, low hanging fruit. Because I write about a world I already know well. But I will also do specific research. In my third book, Victory Disc, I dealt with a crime originating in the RAF bombing campaigns of World War 2. At the end of the novel I acknowledged the two superb books I drew on for the factual background, one by Max Hastings and one by Len Deighton.

Many thanks, Andrew – we’ll be back next week with part 2. 

Lives at sea

We are an island nation, and throughout our history the sea has been inextricably mixed into our lives, whether we experience it as part of our immediate environment, learn about its place in our history, or trace its many marks on our language and literature. Images of the sea and seafaring metaphors sparkle and surge through our poetry and our idioms, and the sea exerts a pull of mystical romance.

To mark National Maritime Day on 1st September, our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library features memoirs of lives at sea. There are books tracing how the sea influenced artists and writers including Conrad and Turner, and books recording the experiences of sailors and fisherman struggling to maintain a livelihood in often pitiless conditions.

Many have been drawn to engage the sea in battles for supremacy, leading to amazing feats of endurance and will – these are the loan yachts-people, circumnavigators and channel swimmers who lead us through their life-changing struggles. There are intimate and personal records of how the sea effected changes in relationships and the sense of self (my personal favourite is Gwynneth Lewis’s Two in a Boat, an account of how the superficially crazy idea of going to sea became a jumping-off point for profound insights into the nature of moods, marriage and metamorphosis).

Our naval history is inevitably linked with painful themes of colonialism and war, and we have books on how projects of land conquest and trade depended on the conquest of the sea from the Elizabethan period onwards, and on how the protagonists of terrifying sea battles understood their experience.

And of course, there are pirates, with brutal realities often far stranger than the romantic legends we have inherited.

We hope you will dive in and find something to interest you.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Guerrilla gardening at Brompton Library

I wonder if you are aware of the concept of guerrilla gardening. There is a body of people out there who selflessly spend their time and resources cultivating neglected public spaces. Some of them are individuals working solo and others are community groups and this is very big worldwide movement.  

Outside Brompton Library there is a small planter. For years this has mysteriously been looked after by our own anonymous guerrilla gardener. Recently, I finally caught up with Bertolutti Dora Howard  as she was watering our own little urban oasis and was able to give her my personal thanks and appreciation for what she is doing for us. She described to me how many of the plants she used were free, harvested from her own gardens in Italy and Cornwall or rescued from local residents who were moving away and could not take their plants with them. She looks after many small gardens on our local streets. The result you will agree is absolutely fabulous.

Like to learn more about this movement? Take a look at the Guerrilla Gardening Community website

Gaynor, Brompton Library

Summer Reading Challenge 2018

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge launches in our libraries tomorrow, Saturday 14 July. The challenge is fun, free and designed for all children whatever their reading ability and it’s been designed to help children to improve their reading skills and confidence during the long summer holidays.

Children can read whatever they like for the challenge – fact books, joke books,
picture books, audio books or you can download a book,  just as long as they are borrowed from the library.

 

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is called Mischief Makers – Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and friends invite the children taking part to set off on a hunt for Beanotown’s famous buried treasure.

 

Each of our libraries will be holding special events for children of all ages, some of these are listed now on our website Pop in to your local Kensington and Chelsea library  to find out more about the Summer Reading Challenge and collect a special  events programme.