Christmas memories from our Biography Collection

Our December display for the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is an unashamedly nostalgic celebration of some Christmas traditions, ancient and modern, from the cosily kitsch to the highly artistic.

The display falls into two halves. First there are the memoirs of Christmasses past. Published in 1955, Mary Clive’s Christmas with the Savages is a hilarious reminiscence of an Edwardian childhood Christmas staying with the Savage family of upper class eccentrics, like a kind of surreal, unruly version of Downton Abbey. Suzanne Lambert’s Christmas at the Ragdoll Orphanage is a heart-warming tear-jerker set in 1930s Newcastle; perfect for curling up by the fire with a mince pie. With chapter headings including “Near Collapse”, “An Awful Smell” and “Difficult Guests”, Hazel Wheeler’s Crackers at Christmas records a half-century of Yorkshire Christmases between the 40s and the 90s with a stoic misery that combines Eeyore and Scrooge, and paradoxically manages to be immensely cheering for those of us with mixed feelings about the festivities. From 1908, Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book was designed to look exactly like a personal photograph album belonging to the royal family, featuring intimate snaps and homely captions.

The second half of the display focuses on some of the people who created or invented rituals and experiences we cherish as part of Christmas. Their Christmas contributions may only have represented a small part of their achievements, but provide a good starting point for looking more closely at their lives. As you would expect, there are some Great Victorians – Henry Cole, who as well as founding the Victoria and Albert Museum, gave us the first commercially produced Christmas card; Isabella Beeton, who perfected the recipe for what we now know as Christmas pudding; Christina Rosetti, whose poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” has become one of our most popular carols – and of course, Dickens, the man who probably did more than any other to create the dream of a London Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century to which our imaginations have returned for generations, with his surprisingly scary and moving, life affirming A Christmas Carol. (Did you know he was involved in a court case about a plagiarised version of it? We include an account of this extraordinary footnote in literary history). No Prince Albert, I’m afraid, as it seems the idea that it was he who introduced the Christmas tree to Britain is erroneous – in fact we owe that to his wife’s grandmother, fellow German Queen Charlotte, and have included a fascinating biography of her.

Christmas in Hollywood has always been a sparkly affair, so you can find Frank Capra, director or It’s a Wonderful Life, Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas”, and a host of singers including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole, who have provided the soundtrack for countless “Merry Little Christmasses”.

The story of Kensington’s own Peter Pan was the first great Christmas “show for all the family”, so J. M. Barrie is included – as is Tchaikovsky, whose Nutcracker ballet continues to enchant. Composers of some of the most magnificent Christmas music are also here – Handel (The Messiah), Bach (Christmas Oratorio), Britten (A Ceremony of Carols and St. Nicolas) and Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on Christmas Carols). All of these works are available through our website via the Naxos Music Library  (There’s free access to this for library members)

So turn down the brussels sprouts, retrieve the tinsel from the dog, turn off the TV for a while and enjoy a biographical glimpse at some of the people who have sprinkled a little sparkle over Christmasses we have loved.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

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Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- Monster by Naoki Urasawa

The brompton Graphic novel reading group will be meeting on Monday 10 December, 6:30pm.

Where they will be discussing volume 1 of the psychological Manga thriller: MONSTER by Naoki Urasawa:

Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. Even a brilliant surgeon like Kenzo Tenma is no exception. But there’s no way he could have known that his decision to stop chasing professional success and instead concentrate on his oath to save peoples’ lives would result in the birth of an abomination. The questions of good and evil now take on a terrifyingly real dimension. Years later, in Germany during the tumultuous post-reunification period, middle-aged childless couples are being killed one after another. The serial killer’s identity is known. The reasons why he kills are not. Dr. Tenma sets out on a journey to find the killer’s twin sister, who may hold some clues to solving the enigma of the “Monster.

Monster_GN_Cover

 

I loved Monster, and I cannot believe it took me this long to read. I’ll be back for more, very soon” – thebooksmugglers.com

Monster appears primed to take the Western world by storm the same way it did Japan” – IGN

 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate.

 

So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Sleepwalk
  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There will be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

David Bushell, Library Customer Services Officer

 

Armistice Day

A century ago, at 5 o’clock on the morning of November 11th 1918, the armistice which marked the end of the First World War was signed in a railway carriage at Compiègne in France.  Seven hours later, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, arms were laid down and hostilities ceased.  So ended four years of violence during which a million British servicemen had died and nearly two million had suffered permanent life-changing injuries. The excitement that had affected many at the outset, as they predicted celebrating victory “by Christmas”, had given way to exhaustion, disillusionment, trauma and grief.  What is striking about many contemporary accounts is the absence of joy – notwithstanding the noisy celebrations that erupted all over the country’s streets, the prevailing mood expressed in diaries and letters is one of weary relief haunted by loss and, often, a terrible sense of futility.

Everyone knew that the “war to end all wars” had changed the world forever, and that the Edwardian society that preceded it was now as distant as another planet.  Several ancient European empires had collapsed, including the ancien regime in Russia, swept away by revolution.  Many people clearly saw in the punitive peace terms eventually imposed on Germany the seeds of another conflict – often predicting, with uncanny accuracy, the 20 year interval that would precede it.

Things had changed enormously for women.  Two million women who statistics suggest would otherwise have married were to remain single due to the deaths of so many of their male peers, and this led to an influx of women into the professions (which generally excluded married women).  Women were soon to be granted the vote; middle class women like Vera Brittain, whose Testament of Youth is one of the most famous of First World War memoirs, had worked as nurses at the front and seen horrors their genteel upbringings would never have acknowledged possible.  They were keen to live their lives in a way that acknowledged how far their experiences had diverged from those of their mothers and grandmothers, and to participate in all arenas of politics, society and the arts.

People knew that as well as being an ending, the armistice marked the beginning of an enormous task – the rebuilding of society and the rehabilitation of individuals broken by war.

For this month’s Biography Collection display, we have a range of books which shed light on this moment of history.  We have many memoirs of combatants and nurses, poignant reminders of the scale of suffering involved.  We have memoirs of some of the doctors charged with trying to mend damaged bodies and minds, including Charles Myers, who studied “shell shock”, and Harold Gillies, who pioneered new treatments for the terrible facial injuries that the modern weapons of this modern war had caused.  We have the accounts of the politicians and military leaders who were there when the armistice was signed, and those who contemplated how to transform Britain into a “land fit for heroes”.  We have the poets and painters who revolutionised their art forms in order to describe their trench experiences.  We have those who addressed the problem of how to memorialise the massive human loss – like Edwin Lutyens, architect of the Cenotaph, and Sir Fabian Ware who founded the Imperial War Graves Commission.  To give a sense of the zeitgeist, we have portraits  of some of the leading figures of the day in both intellectual and popular culture: as the bells rang to mark the armistice, Sydney Blow’s production of “The Officers’ Mess” was the hot ticket on the West End Stage (with its rousing number, “Handsome Herbert of the Horseguards”), the hits of Al Jolson and Irving Berlin were on every fashionable phonograph, Charlie Chaplin was already beloved of cinema audiences, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians was hailed as a milestone of the biography genre (and encapsulated in its style the dismantling of the old order), and Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier was one of the first novels to wrestle with the psychological legacy of war.

A century on, the scale of loss and suffering endured in the First World War still shocks.  Nothing evokes what it was actually like to live through its bloody course and traumatised aftermath more powerfully than contemporary records like diaries and letters, and the memoirs of those attempting to make sense of an event that transformed and overshadowed their lives.  We hope that they will bring to life for readers this critically important moment in our history, a hundred years ago.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

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

 

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 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

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