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

 

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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 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. 

What we do today echoes in tomorrow’s life – Angus Wythes

Have you heard of above the line thinking? It can help you define your current situation, choose your direction and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and drive as well as being accountable for your own results. Like to learn more? Angus Wythes from The Performers Edge will be at Brompton Library today Tuesday 26 June, 6pm. You can book a free place via Eventbrite

In the meantime, over to Angus to tell us more –

What we do today echoes in tomorrow’s life. We all want to live a life we have created and in this Performers Edge workshop, above the line thinking explores one method. Living the life you want to create is about choice. Especially when we live in a modern world fundamentally driven by instant gratification, high pressured work and domestic environments which often at times is devoid of any significant meaning.

Frequently for most of us (and I am no exception) we seem to get caught up in the fast pace of life and do, do, do working our way down a check list of sorts and we tend to lose our sense of being. Our sense of being can be characterised by statements like, what sort of person am I being or who am I being in this moment. It is actually this sense of being that defines us as people and not what we do. What we do can change within moments, one minute an athlete or multi-million pound investor and the next injured and unable to compete or broke and no way to trade.

Unfortunately for most of us we are not aware of this relationship and this more often than not leads to behaviours which simply do not serve the self. With an awareness of this relationship we can in part empower and create for ourselves a greater level of choice. In choice, we have the power to define our reality and not reality to define us.

With choice we have the option to live our purpose and in imperfect action we can find direction always moving forward towards the place we wish to be. Choice in part underlies Being and so the journey becomes more important than the goal itself. In becoming the person worthy of the goal the goal actually becomes less important and ironically we are freed through choice (and so being) to achieve the goal.

Above the line thinking is a proactive mindset focusing on creating choice within a space of what we can actually control and therefore be directly responsible. In life there are very few factors we can control and many of the most successful people have mastered this thinking. These include Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Matthew Hussey and even Lance Armstrong among many, many others.

Leading with focus and in a state of being we have frameworks to be proactive in our life and generate that same success as these names. It is critical to understand why thinking above the line is important and why the strategies of cause and effort, the triad of result and outcome model work and how this aids in the creation of a proactive life.

In the end life should be about the ands and not the ors and we all want to live resourceful meaningful lives full of purpose. We desire to be the master creators in our life and in that form I look forward to meeting and sharing The Performers Edge event  with you all.

Hope to see you on 26 June.

Angus Wythes

Chelsea in Bloom

crownAre you looking forward to doing something uplifting, something that puts smile on your face – effortlessly?

Have you seen flower displays around Chelsea?
There is no better way to celebrate the start of summer than visiting Chelsea in Bloom.
Download the map and vote for your favourite display!


Whether you want to take selfie with Frida Kahlo, peep through the gorgeous ‘diamond’ ring, giggle with the funny skeletons, admire a bus made of carnations, floral flags, regal swans or just smile and sigh while gazing at roses, camellias, lilies, freesia, sweet peas, chrysanthemums, gerbera  … you will enjoy your stroll.
The flower displays are so inspirational, cheeky, lavish, splendid … Pure pleasure!

Just one thing, if I can recommend, wherever you start your tour, quickly pop to  Chelsea Library and grab a book – Jessie Burton’s “The Muse” or one of Elly Griffiths’ crime novels. So, when you decide to sit and pause the leisurely walk, you have your book with you.

For more information, please visit the Chelsea in Bloom website.

 

Women in medicine

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

All about us

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.

Book Break reading groups in Kensington and Chelsea

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 erincarlstrom@thereader.org.uk or call 07483 972 020

Liz at lizison@thereader.org.uk 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

Cityread London 2018

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

 

 

 

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part III

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.

The Flying Codonas

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.