Man Booker

October brings the 2017 Man Booker prize awards after the short list of the six novels was announced in September. By chance, when the long list came out earlier, I heard an interview on the radio with Fiona Mozley, a young first time novelist whose book, ELMET, I bought a few days later. Good news when, against many expectations, Elmet was one of the six short listed.

The word Elmet meant nothing to me. The book explains, quoting Ted Hughes, ‘Elmet was the last independent Celtic Kingdom in England and originally stretched out over the Vale of York.’ Since buying the book I keep coming across the name – there is even an MP for Elmet and…

The tale is one of our time focusing on a family, well, a son, Daniel, and daughter, Cathy, and their ‘Daddy’, a man mixing moments of tenderness with a mean fighting lifestyle, essential to his survival.

Every year the Yeovil Community Arts Association holds a lively debate (this year on Thursday 5th October in The Johnson Studio at The Octagon Theatre, Yeovil) with advocates arguing the merits, or on occasion the failings, of each of the six finalists. On occasion the subsequent vote of those attending is in line with the that of Man Booker judges.

The six on the short list are: 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber), HISTORY OF WOLVES by Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Orion Books), EXIT WEST by Moshin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House), ELMET by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals, John Murray), LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, George Saunders (Bloomsbury Publishing) and AUTUMN by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House).

Several long listed ‘names’ didn’t make the cut. Will Elmet succeed? It might just do it.

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BIRCHLAND HALL, my second novel, is now independently published on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle e-book. Although the ideas behind the novel have been in my mind for some time, I only got down to serious writing this year, through several drafts. I had returned to Birchland Hall as I was blocked on my proposed novel, EXMOOR PUFFBALL based locally and in Kyoto, Japan.

The puffballs Franklyn Thomalin chances on growing on Exmoor are mysterious, their spores seeking living hosts. I now aim for Exmoor Puffball coming out in 2018.

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… September’s door here in West Somerset, the meteorological start of Autumn, there’s talk of overnight grass frosts and periods of rain. The trees, Rowans, Oaks, Ash and Maples are already showing a colouring in their leaves. This morning the last fledging of Swallows were on the telegraph wires preparing to follow their elders flying south to Africa.IMG_1129-001 Our House Martins, after their most successful nesting season for several years – in the end six active nests, probably nine broods, have already departed. We wish them safe away and safe home again next April.

September will bring the publication of my second novel, BIRCHLAND HALL. Birchland Hall Chip Cover.jpegThe final proofs are in order and the presses will roll.

Birchland Hall is a novel of family drama revolving around  a Victorian mansion in the West Yorkshire town of Dewsfield, set in the late 1990’s. Let’s look forward to it getting onto Book Group reading lists.

And just for fun, an acrylic painting I entered in the Corsley Show last week won third prize… in a class of three!

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I made no posts in June or July. My only excuse is the I have been busy bouncing edits to and fro with my editor progressing my second novel, ‘BIRCHLAND HALL, toward publication in September. I’m now waiting for a proof copy through the post to get the physical feel of the book in my hand.

Birchland Hall is a novel of family drama revolving around a Victorian mansion in the West Yorkshire town of Dewsfield, set in the late 1990s. Birchland Hall Chip Cover.jpegCousins Mo and Freddie Holtbury, strangers since an unfriendly childhood, now in their fifties, meet on a bleak October day, the only family at Aunt Ethel’s funeral. Neither has married, both are only children. The dilapidated mansion, built by their great-great grandfather, with its contents, is their joint inheritance.

Strangers to Yorkshire, they discover the sway their Holtbury forebears held in the once proud manufacturing town. They face an unsought responsibility to bring life back to Birchland Hall.

Over months the cousins’ lives entangle, searching for family connection.

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Last week I went to see the film ‘Dunkirk’. It was at a small cinema, an afternoon showing in the second week. There were less than twenty people watching. Looking round I guessed I was the only one there alive in 1940. Two weeks after my first birthday I was blissfully unaware of the time we were living through. My mother, married for eight years with two sons, 5 and 1, and her husband in France not knowing whether she would see him again.

My father did get home. Captured by the encircling enemy, he seized a firearm, shot his captor, jumped from a window and fled on foot getting back to his regiment and to the Dunkirk beaches. He got a place on a British paddle steamer that was bombed and sunk mid channel. He stripped off and swam eventually getting rescued, stark naked, by a French warship, which explains why he arrived in Dover dressed as a French sailor.

My brother must have had some understanding of what was happening, but it was only years later that I understood how harrowing a time it had been for my parents and so many families, many less fortunate than ourselves. All through the film I was thinking of the crisis  the country, so many families and my mother and father had lived through. It was an emotional journey and strange to leave the cinema into the summer daylight to find the small town outside going about its day-to-day business.


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I can’t let May 2017 pass by without mentioning, again, the House Martins that have flown back to Fordhollow. How many of these are from last year’s brood (or broods, we think there were two hatched from the one nest)? we cannot know. Today there are a great number here flying up to the eaves of the house and building nests. They must carry a lot of mud as the nests build rapidly, in a couple of days, and the door and windows below are splattered with mud where vital material has dropped before its intended destination.

The abundance of House Martins nesting on the house was a good reason why we moved here twenty-three years ago. IMG_1432Not the sole reason, but a significant attraction. For several years we enjoyed their return each May, then numbers declined, in part because our abundance of sparrows fought off the new arrivals breaking the old and new nests. For two or three years we had no House Martins here at Fordhollow although they were in the area.

Three years ago we put up two artificial nests, another year without, before last year they occupied one of the artificial nests. This winter we added two more artificial nests – with some difficulty stretching as high as I could from the top of the ladder.

Now we are rewarded. This May the House Martins are back in good numbers – so far we have two, out of four, artificial nest occupied, five new nest built with another on the way, and, unexpectedly, IMG_1439a ‘first floor’ nest built on top of one of the latest batch of artificial nests

We are woken every fine spring morning by the glorious acrobatics of the hard working House Martins adding to their ‘adobe’ structures and showing the first signs of breeding. You might expect them to rest after their journey from Africa; no, they are at once setting up to produce another generation.

They are most welcome.

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Canna, my dog named after the Hebridean island, is good at scenting. The other day she stopped pointing into the fresh grown long grass. Close examination showed the chequered plumage of a hen pheasant, unmoving, flat to the ground.

Sadly, next day, the grass was disturbed and feathers lay on the ground. It was likely that a fox had taken the nesting bird. Two eggs were in the nest, two eggs of differing colours, one dark, one light, yet both pheasant eggs. By afternoon both eggs had gone, probably taken by a Jackdaw of which there are many round and about.

A favourite bird of mine is the Raven, Their slow flight overhead, a pair barking their call to each other, is wonderful sight. An unhappy ‘bird tale’ on Farming Today’ earlier in the week reported Ravens ganging up into large groups, maybe forty at a time, to attack and kill lambs. The report was from Dartmoor, but the same has happened on the Dorset / Wiltshire border. Ravens are a Protected Species, but it is possibly to get a special licence to cull them if extensive lamb killing is proven. The interviewee, a sheep farmer of 60 years, said he would not want to see the protected status of Ravens overturned, but there is a real problem when large flocks of sheep are lambing in open fields and Ravens congregate in large numbers. It is a frequent habit of all animals, from humans to the mammals in the seas, once packs are formed, to attack vulnerable individuals.

On a much happier note our House Martins are back in good numbers, already occupying some of the artificial nests on the house. The spring blossom, apple, wild cherry and the ever beautiful flowering of the wisteria, are fine signs of spring beckoning bees to develop the season.


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