A married man meets a young girl who works as an advertising model and studies pantomime. They meet sometimes and go out for meals and he enjoys talking to her. One day her father dies and she asks him to look after her cat while she travels to Africa.
When she returns, she has a new boyfriend in tow, a rich young man with a European sports car. The girl and the boyfriend turn up at his house with lunch one afternoon and, after a few drinks, the young man admits to enjoying burning barns, an admission that creates an obsession in the older man.
True to his style, the story is simple with many subtle complexities and ambiguities.
Burning – a film directed by Lee Chang-Dong
In the film, the main character, now called Jongsu, is no longer an older married man but a recent graduate with no money or parental support, trying to make his way as a writer. Making him younger, adds a coming of age element that is reminiscent of Murakami’s other work such as Norwegian Wood. The relationship between Jongsu and Hai-mae is more developed and her Americanised boyfriend Ben, now a Jongsu’s peer, becomes his rival.
The location of the story has moved from Tokyo to Seoul and Paju, the small town where Jongsu grew up. Barns are now greenhouses, more appropriate to the South Korean countryside, and propaganda messages can be heard coming over the border from North Korea. At one point there is news coverage of Trump talking about America in the background, making the film relevant and contemporary, while keeping and expanding on the important elements of the story and paying a lot of respect to Murakami.
Chang-Dong has taken the story and turned it into an unsettling and mysterious film that builds into a gripping thriller.
Beautifully shot and acted with a great soundtrack.
Today, 8 March, is a date to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. It all began over a century ago and today it is observed all over the world. It is also a day to reflect on improving gender equality and for 2019 the theme is #BalanceforBetter.
At Brompton library, we have been celebrating the literary achievement of women with a series of book reviews. Since International Women’s Day in 2018, I have been doing regular reviews of books by inspirational female authors. In total I have read eleven books by eleven amazing female writers. It is hard to pick a favourite because the books are all so different and written in different styles.
I loved some of the books because of their subject matter or the worlds they created. There are the feminist dystopias of The Power, The Water Cure and Red Clocks which comment on gender equality in our own society. There is Helen Dunmore’s novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history. Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood’s novels reimagine classic myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective.
I found some of the books inspirational because of their authors. Such as Zadie Smith, who was published at a young age and has gone on to win many literary awards or Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there is Malala Yousafzai, who almost lost her life standing up for women’s rights.
Because the books are from different eras, it made me reflect on the journey of women’s rights. Roxane Gay’s essays are a funny and insightful look into the struggles of being a modern feminist, whereas Emily Bronte, who had to publish Wuthering Heights under a male pseudonym, is a reminder of how far we’ve come.
I hope you have been as inspired as me by these great reads! And I’m sure you can think of many more inspirational female authors to add to this list.
On Wednesday 13 February, the first sunny day of the month, Brompton Library was host to an exciting event. Caroline Lawrence, author of successful series The Roman Mysteries, gave a brilliant two-hour workshop to 9 – 11 year-old pupils of local Earls Court School, St Barnabas and St Philip’s. The pupils were accompanied by Assistant Head Teacher, Nicola Challice.
The children learnt about what it is to be a writer and how to structure a story. This included ‘ninja description’, the ‘seven beats’ of plot and the ‘number shape system’.
The workshop culminated in working through the first chapters of Caroline’s forthcoming book, The Time-Travel Diaries, which will be published on 5 April. The children competed to see who could write the best blog about their experience. We think they all did brilliantly!
Thank you so much to Caroline for such an interesting workshop. The Time-Travel Diaries is published on 5 April 2019. And thank you to St Barnabas and St Philip’s as well, the children were a credit to their school, remaining excited and involved throughout.
If you’re a local school and would like to take part in a similar event – please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place on 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 – the first part is today and the second and third will follow on the next two Mondays. We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
The fate of the Romani people in WW2 has been called the ‘forgotten holocaust’. Why do you think it’s important that we don’t forget what happened to them?
Many people have little or no knowledge that the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime on racial grounds and that up to half a million Roma died during the Second World War. Despite the welcome opening of the beautiful memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in 2013, today the Romani community remains one of the most disliked and least tolerated minorities in Europe. And alarmingly, anti-Romani hostility is on the increase, aggravated by growing far-right extremism. The Roma are still scapegoats, frequently victims of prejudice and racially motivated attacks, hate speech and hate crime, and facing discrimination in nearly every country where they live. I believe that now more than ever we must stand up against prejudice and hatred when we see them in our own communities. The Holocaust all happened a long time ago, and yet millions of men, women and children have been murdered since in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In today’s world, racial abuse and hate crime is still very much in the news so it is more important than ever, as the people who witnessed the Holocaust during WW2 are growing older and dying, to keep the memory alive of what can happen when prejudice and hatred are left unchallenged.
A Berlin Love Song also reflects on what happened to normal German families at the time and the difficulties they faced. Was it important to include this perspective?
Since A Berlin Love Song is set entirely in Germany and about Germans, I felt it was essential to make sure that the story was told exclusively from the German point of view. I was very careful not to read anything about the home front in England to make sure that my characters had an authentic German feel. There is so much written about the home front in England that it would have been very easy for me to rely on those sorts of books, but I was very careful not to be tempted. It wasn’t too difficult as there are lots of diaries and memoirs written by Germans who lived through the war years and many of them are published in translation. I have schoolgirl German but I was very relieved I could read most of them in English. I did have to tangle with a couple of books in German that I couldn’t find in translation and it was very time consuming. I was also very careful to try to write without the benefit of hindsight. The challenge of writing historical fiction is that the characters cannot know what happens next even though the writer does, and you need to bear this in mind when you are writing, so that events from the war years feel contemporary and authentic, and that conversations and people’s reactions to events feel right for the time.
We’ll be back next Monday with part II, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.
Katherine Arden is the author of the Winternight trilogy, three books based on fairy tales set in snowy, medieval Russia. She will be at Brompton Library on Thursday 5 April and she will read from her new book, The Girl in The Tower and answer questions about her stories.