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Yes, folks, in the ceaseless quest for verbal serendipity, entertainment and enlightenment I have read through an entire dictionary [well, I must have because this is pretty well on the last page, innit?] to bring you a word that, when you get its meaning, you will wonder how you ever managed without. That sentence may be ungrammatical, but you get my drift?
Zugzwang is a German word, a chess term, but I see no reason why it should be confined to chess. Let it break free into the universe!
Imagine you have been invited to someone’s house for tea. You don’t find them congenial; your heart sinks, but you tell yourself, as we do, that it might be good to go because…. because they sound so genuinely pleased to have you in their tea-drinking clutches; you hope it might strategically be useful – maybe they could babysit, or lend you a decent book to read, or give you a salary boost…. but alas, none of these things happen. You sit glumly, trying not to sneak looks at your watch [am I the only person that still wears a watch especially so I can do this without fiddling with my phone?] wondering how soon and how gracefully you could extricate yourself from this person’s life…
Finally, you do it. You wave goodbye. You hope your paths need never cross socially again. But aarrgggh, a few days later, doesn’t the person phone you and say how lovely it was to meet up, and how great it would be if you were in today, as they will be dropping by around teatime? and a grey cloud comes over your consciousness as you realise there is no alternative for you. You must invite them – they could be your boss or an in-law, anyway, you cannot, much as you’d like to, delete them from your own, all too horribly real, network of acquaintances.
Furthermore, you know that this is just the beginning of a series of unprofitable encounters from which you can never hope to derive pleasure, gain or profit.
That, my friend, is your zugzwang.
Your obligation to make a move that will bring you no advantage at all, yet which you cannot avoid.

I can’t promise that this is one of a series of fab new words, because that’s not how I operate. Next time I am leafing through a dictionary in search of entertainment, I’ll have a look at the letter A. That is as much as I can offer. I have spent my life avoiding zugzwangs.

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Since his death last week, I’ve been haunted by Seamus Heaney. He even visited me last night in a dream, where his  kindly, smiling presence was comforting and consoling.

I met him once, in a crowd of writers, standing up to meet me and shake my hand, with a smile and a pint beside him. Even though he was welcoming and warm, I felt terrified. He stood well over six foot, he was a god among poets, and he was waiting for me to say something. All I could think of to share was that my daughter admired his poetry [I was ashamed to say I had never read any of it].

His last words, texted from his hospital bed to his wife, speak also to me: Do not be afraid.

I sometimes feel scared of my mortality, of saying goodbye for ever, of no longer being a living writer. He seems to have died quickly and with dignity, unexpectedly, leaving us all wanting more. I salute you, Seamus. And I intend to read your poetry this autumn. So when we meet in heaven, I won’t be too embarrassed to shake your hand.

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I’ve been digging into my memory lately to think of ‘dips’ – ways we used to choose someone to be ‘it’ in chasing games. London school playgrounds were unselfconsciously rich in culture – I used to know about twenty different dips. And if I was being chased and I needed some time out of the game, the cry of ‘Fainlights’ with simultaneous holding up both hands with crossed first and second fingers was universally respected.

Here are the words of a song from Scottish children, immortalised on film in the Scottish Screen Archive’s site.

Well I sent her for eggs, oh then, oh then
I sent her for eggs, oh then
Yes I sent her for eggs, and she fell and broke her legs
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for butter, oh then, oh then
I sent her for butter, oh then
Yes I sent her for butter, and she fell down in the gutter
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for bread, oh then, oh then
I sent her for bread, oh then
Yes I sent her for bread, and she dropit down dead
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye.

You can watch the film if you go to their website. http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=0799

But coming forward to the present, Bess, aged six, says the recognised shout for time out of a game of tag is ‘pause game’….

How about you? Did you play games with dips and fains? How about your kids now?

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My – as I thought – sweet and innocent historical novelist friend Karen Charlton made a weird discovery while researching her family for a new novel.  She discovered that her ancestor, Jamie Charlton, was convicted of Northumberland’s most notorious robbery back in 1810.

FK: So,  Catching the Eagle,  your debut novel,  is based on the true story of Jamie Charlton, and now we discover that potentially you have more than one skeleton in the closet.  Another ancestor of yours, William, brother of the unlucky Jamie, perjured himself in court to try and get his sibling off the charge. Mm, nice ancestors you’ve inherited…. it’s a while since I’ve had the opportunity to interview someone who openly admits that they are descended from a long line of thieves and perjurers.

KAREN: Er, thank you.  I hope it makes a refreshing change for you.  Although so far we have no evidence that William was ever charged with perjury.

FK: But did he do it?

KAREN: Probably.

FK:  Okay, I’ll take your word for it. So how did you discover this nest of old family lags?

KAREN:  We were researching our family’s history some years ago.  One day I was sitting reading my messages and opened one from a genealogy researcher who said that Jamie Charlton had been convicted of stealing the rent from Kirkley Hall in Northumberland and sentenced to transportation.  When we shook our family tree – a convict fell out.

FK: How much did he steal?

KAREN: £1,157.  This was quite a lot of money back in 1810.

FK:  Were you surprised?

KAREN:  Yes.  I reached for a large Bacardi and couldn’t stop giggling for days.  When my elderly Grandmother had first met my husband she had said she thought he was a ‘wrong ‘un.’  I now had proof that the Charltons were all ‘wrong ‘uns.’ I kept reminding my husband of this.  Still do, in fact.

FK: Ah, so the felonious ancestor is actually his blood relation – not yours?

KAREN: Yes: Jamie Charlton is a direct ancestor of my husband and children.

FK: [stops for shivers to run up and down spine at this thought] Mm.. Is the burglary gene hereditary?

KAREN: I don’t believe so.  But my children are only teenagers – there’s plenty of time to find out yet.

FK: So how did your husband react to the discovery that he had a jail-bird roosting in the branches of his family tree?

KAREN: He was quite upset, especially when we learned that Jamie’s conviction was controversial – even by the dodgy standards of the Regency justice system. He felt sure that Jamie Charlton had been framed and that the whole thing was a miscarriage of justice.

FK:  So you went ahead and wrote the novel anyway?

KAREN: Absolutely.  The perfect plot for a historical novel had just fallen in my lap.  I wasn’t going to let that pass me by.  I particularly enjoyed creating the characters of Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods, who were brought up from London by the worried landowner to help solve the crime.  When the first seeds of a plot for my second novel, The Missing Heiress, began to grow in my mind I decided to use these two characters again; the dialogue and rapport which developed between them was fun to write.

FK:  The Missing Heiress will be published by Knox Robinson Publishing on December 6th.  Is that also based on the true story of a load of old Charlton Crims?

KAREN: No, The Missing Heiress is pure fiction.  It‘s a Regency whodunit revolving around the mystery of a beautiful heiress who vanishes from a locked bedchamber.  But Stephen Lavender was a real historical figure, one of the first principal officers with the Bow Street magistrates’ court in London.

FK: A Bow Street Runner, eh?  Did he always operate out of London?

KAREN: No.  He became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester after the formation of the police force by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

FK: So ultimately, Stephen Lavender, the hero of your second novel, is the man who placed your husband’s bad Great-Granddad in the dock?

KAREN: Yes, but I don’t hold that against him.  When the first seeds of a plot for this whodunit began to germinate in my head, as far as I was concerned there were only two policemen in England who could crack the case.

FK:: Fair enough.  But tell me –  are you still married to this feloniously descended Charlton chappy?

KAREN: Yes.  Why?

FK: Well, far be it from me to make trouble, but it seems to me that writing one historical novel full of details about your hubby’s devious ancestor – and then a second book which glorifies the detective who arrested and convicted him – might strike him as excellent grounds for a divorce.

KAREN:   We’re sound.

FK:  Delighted to hear it. And I suppose the royalties help lighten the embarrassment.  So tell me, have you uncovered any more shady relatives to fictionalise?

KAREN: No.  But we haven’t researched his mother’s family tree yet.

FRAN:  Shameless or just incredibly brave? Only time will tell.  The Missing Heiress  is published on 6th December.  More details can be found on Karen’s website: www.karencharlton.com     oh, and divorce lawyers touting for business can contact her there directly.

 

 

 

The Missing Heiress on amazon.co.uk  : http://www.amazon.co.uk/Missing-Heiress-Detective-Lavender-Series/dp/1908483709/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354112715&sr=8-1

 

The Missing Heiress on The Book Depository (Free Worldwide Delivery):  http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Missing-Heiress-Karen-Charlton/9781908483706

 

Website address:  www.karencharlton.com

 

 

 

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My friend Sile sent shivers down my spine with this post. It’s like the haunting tune of ‘Cape Clear’ – yearning, joyful, lonely, questing.

Síle Looks Up

On Saturday I went to Inis Bearachain in Conamara with my sisters, their husbands, two small people and a friend whose father came from the island. We were going to visit a very particular art exhibition as part of Tulca, a multi-venue visual art festival. This is our afternoon in pictures.

We drove to Leitir Calaidh, got on a boat at the pier and sailed out to the island.

View original post 612 more words

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Yes, I really need your help.

I have a stack of friends’ books to read [long overdue] and have just joined a public library where I can take TWENTY books out at one go. I am overwhelmed and delighted.

However, I note that a new novel has just been published. A novel about the underclass, or lumpenproletariat, or disadvantaged marginalised minorities. An area in which I have lived in my imagination [and earlier, in reality] for a long, long time.

So,  help, please. Whereabouts on my list should ‘The Casual Vacancy’ go?  Top five? Bottom fifty? Shades of unfortunate, you might say……

HELP

I am awash with literature [not complaining, just noticing]……

 

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I was thirteen when, shaking with nervous excitement, I went through the impressive doors of Bush House. The commissionaire – even more impressive – nodded me towards the lifts and  we [me and my mother, who was required to be my chaperone], ascended to Radio.

I was a contestant in the Children’s Hour programme ‘Regional Round’ – a not very demanding quiz game hosted by Geoffrey Dearmer, a kindly man with a gong, who responded to a wrong answer with a ‘gentle gong, Geoffrey’.

Luckily I did not earn a gong, but a BBC book token. I still have the stub, even though I can’t remember the book I bought with  it.

I dreamed of returning, perhaps as a child actor in one of the Children’s Hour serials. But fame eluded me, until I made it into Television Centre [another BBC giant that is now no more] as a regular on ‘You and Me’.

Bush House went dark at midday today. An era in broadcasting is over.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18801251

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