Show 010: August 2008

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In this month's show:


This podcast is being recorded in my garden in Headingley two miles from Leeds city centre so apologies for any traffic noise during the recording.

Two dates for your diary. Lovers of the crime genre will be able to enjoy an afternoon of European crime writing at The Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds on Saturday 27th September. Two major European crime writers will be appearing at this event which I will be hosting, along with our very own Sophie Hannah.

And in The Fishmarket in Northampton on Sunday 28th September, a Readers’ Day where Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, will be appearing along with local writers. Again I will be hosting the day and running a poetry readers’ workshop.

Book Review

Perfect summer reads

Thanks to Pritpal from Allerton High School who recommended The Recruit by Robert Muchamore. I interviewed Tom Palmer last month whose novel Foul Play was much recommended. The Recruit occupies the same, set in a kind of juvenile MI5. with a very interesting teenage character at the centre of the action.

Emma Holliday from Scarborough, recommended By The Time You Read This, a debut novel by Lola Jaye, and I was captivated from the very first sentence which was,

‘Mum’s marrying some prick she met down the bingo’.

An American friend recommended Janet Evanovich some time ago, and I’ve just finished Fearless Fourteen which represents a return to form after two rather disappointing recent outings for her central character Stephanie Plum, a bail bond agent, with an hilarious take on life.

Novelist Ray French has always been a fan of Lorrie Moore and recommended her to me some time ago. I’ve read some of her collections of short stories, and a novel, and have just bought The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore, out now from Faber. I am reminded of Alice Munro but with a distinctive quirkiness and humour all of her own.


I set myself a challenge recently by writing a short story about little paper origami boats which have been appearing in the cracks in the walls in my road over the last twenty years. Here are the last few pages of the story.

Never Go Back…

She lies back down on the bed again, and closes her eyes. All at once she is walking down the road at home with Rose, on their way somewhere, perhaps even first thing in the morning going to school. As they walk, hand in hand, they look as they always do, along the brick front garden walls capped with Yorkshire stone and find, as they always find, [where the mortar has worn away between bricks and capping and left gaps], small boats made out of folded paper poised in jaunty voyages, of every colour and texture, in newsprint and card and wrapping paper. The trail leads from the bottom of the road by the pelican crossing, to the top of the road and the stone wall around the church.

‘Mummy,’ asks Rose as she always does, ’Where do the boats come from? Who puts them there?’.

And she tells Rose again about the elderly Asian man she has seen once or twice, neat in his well pressed suit, walking down the road early in the morning, or late in the afternoon, taking the little paper objects out of a carrier bag and slipping them in the gaps between brick and brick, and brick and stone. And how this only happens when he thinks he is unobserved, though he’s not at all surreptitious, and how his face is sad and lined, and his eyes inward looking.

‘And Mummy, why does he do it?”

Paper boat
And she tells Rose that perhaps the old man is making journeys or voyages in his head, and the paper boats help him imagine places he is going, or places he has been. Places he might want to go back to. Perhaps another town or city, perhaps another country. Perhaps he’s sending messages to his family, to friends he has not seen for a long time, or may have lost on the way. Rose always falls quiet at this point, and she is aware that her daughter has thoughts that she, her mother, can no longer reach or decipher, and her hand closes tighter over the child’s hand in hers.

‘But not tight enough’, she says to the room, ’ It was never quite tight enough’.

She remembers the pulse at the base of the curled thumb weak and intermittent, like a clock winding down, and the eventual cooling and loosening of that small hand in hers. She remembers how she had shrieked and then shouted, so long and harshly, that when she had finished, shaking and sobbing, she could almost taste blood in her throat. The white shocked faces around her. Richard twisted and bent in grief as if he had suddenly become an old man. She remembers thinking,

‘But this is so like being in a play or an opera’,

before finally realising, that it was actually real life. And it was happening to her. And the tears stand again on her cheeks, and she makes no attempt to wipe them off.

Much later, after a blurry doze, she hears footsteps along the corridor, which stop outside her room. A familiar voice calls out her name, and she sits up in bed, for the first time aware of an extra awkwardness in her movements, a heaviness around her middle.
‘Coming’, she calls, slipping on her cotton robe, and feet back into flip-flops, and raking at her hair with clumsy fingers, ‘You found me. How did you know?’

And just before she reaches the door she sees again the flattened piece of coloured paper at her feet. Part of a hotel menu she had folded unconsciously earlier while she drank her wine and prepared to sleep, she sees that she has made a boat like the boats she and Rose had found everyday on their way to school. She scoops it up and her fingers start tweaking knowledgably at it, pulling it back into three dimensions.

And then she is by the door, unlocking it, one hand cupping the new roundness of her stomach. Richard is there in the doorway. She hands him the little boat with the name of the hotel riding merrily sideways on its triangular sail. And she realises that she has something to tell him about Rose, that he hadn’t known. He puts the boat on his head and it sits there like a tiny paper trilby. He looks ridiculous. And they grin at each other like conspirators, and a current of warmth moves between them. She sees from his face that he has been worried, and she feels a pang of guilt. She makes a resolve that when they finally get home again, she will make some more little paper boats, sitting up late in her studio, listening to music. And then, early one morning she and Richard will float them along the wall in her street, as if they were taking messages to Rose.

She imagines an armada of ships gathering over the years, issuing from her hands. Suddenly she feels very tired. She might sleep now. Sleep properly for the first time in so, so long. Richard seems to understand this, and moves her across the room back to the bed, takes off her robe, and helping her onto the bed as if she is very old or sick, lies beside her. The red-wine stain, which at first had looked so much like blood, is now blue. They lie together after their separate journeys, resting in this temporary harbour. She feels safe. And as her eyes close properly, she is not afraid, she can hear the sea outside, smell the rosemary, and see her fleet of ships, like bunting, streaming behind her and in front of her.

Inside her the baby kicks.
She does not feel him letting her go, letting her fall into deeper sleep.
The woman lies motionless on the bed, below the slow propeller sweepings of the ceiling fan, only her chest moving as finally she sleeps.

Poem of The Month

This month’s poem encapsulates some of the mysteries and values of a fifties suburban childhood. Read Polishing.