by KAMAL LATHAR
I have been writing children’s fiction for a while now, but then one dark and stormy night, it occurred to me that I had other things to say which did not come under fiction. These other things I have to say came under a completely different category than the fantasy-thriller for young adults. I would hazard a guess that it is probably more personal than any story. It is some of the insights, learnings and understanding that I have acquired in my life-journey and which makes me - me.
I have recently published
How to Find Your Inner Demons, Destroy Them and Set Yourself Free
As it is Christmas and coming up to New Year, when typically most people think it is a time to make new resolutions, to create a possible new game plan for themselves, make changes to their life, make changes to their bodies, make changes to their mental perspective. Typically we do these things to improve our life, typically we wish to nudge it closer to the life that we think we should be living, and mostly aspirationally speaking, closer to our inner dreams for ourselves.
So onto the self-help book available in kindle now, and in paperback in the new year.
I have always been interested in the mad world of adults where rational decisions often seemed to be made irrationally, or at least so it seemed to me as a child. This curiosity turned into more than an interest when I not only noticed that most adults behaved this way, but I did too.
It was a desire to escape from my pre-ordained destiny that set me on the path to search for something that works in helping me avoid it. On a personal level, I don’t wish to lie on a psychologist’s couch and have the ‘techniques’ applied to me when if ‘one can be truly honest with oneself’, you will find the gifts within that truth and honesty all by yourself.
This I can do. Anyway that works for me.
Porlock. That tiny village near the Bristol Channel should indicate the subject of my new novel, The Second Person from Porlock.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet who changed the way poetry should be read. A revolution in how it is understood. It has been said that his theory of the imagination has led to the establishment of English as an academic subject for university study, and I am inclined to believe this. Yet his life was chaotic. He was an opium-sodden wretch, he was deeply selfish, he deserted his wife. A multi-layered character. Greatness mixed with degradation.
You can’t just write about him. I composed a sort of riff about his life. This was a real pleasure for me. The starting point was a strange, ambiguous comment scrawled in a copy of “Kubla Khan” in the Old Library of Jesus College, Cambridge, his college and mine.
Who wrote it? A mystery. We meet two fictional characters, one searching for Coleridge, the other for himself. There is a touch of the supernatural in this, reflecting both his poetry and his life.
The book is published by Fairlight Books.
BUY NOW from all books shops - WATERSTONES
Contributed by LiterArties Dennis Hamley
At last I’ve managed to republish three novels, Hare’s Choice, Badger’s Fate and Hawk’s Vision, in the form they should have been years ago, as a single volume, The Hare Trilogy.
These books were published as children’s books and children remain their primary intended audience. But is it still a relevant one? Can present-day children identify with these fictional children living in a sort of vanished Neverland, with their unfashionable names and their eighties, smartphoneless preoccupations? I don’t know. And perhaps it doesn’t matter so much. Because I always had a different purpose. These are books for children. But they are also books about children. The difference is significant. They become books for adults as well.
They are also about something else, which provides the whole impetus of the trilogy. They are about stories: how they work, how they are composed, how their composition embodies the whole creative process, what they mean, what they are for. And even more importantly, what sort of truth do they embody?
The three stories together can be seen as a meditation on the nature of truth. ‘Things aren’t untrue just because they never happened’, the overseer tells Hare after she is dead. Elsewhere, I have described my first example for this. Let us take a place which many people know about and have marvelled at – the Cob at Lyme Regis, that probably medieval stone harboiur quay which juts out of Lyme Bay and gives marvellous views of the Jurassic Coast. In all the centuries of harbour activity there, what do we really know about it? What actually happened on it? Unless we’re long-term natives of Lyme or local historians, we have no idea. But we all know of two ‘facts’ about it. First. a girl called Louisa once fell off it. Second, another girl called Sara Woodruff once stood at the end day after day looking olut to sea waiting for her lover to return. But they never happened. I need hardly say that the first is from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and the second from John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But they stand in our minds like myth, with a real sense of actuality and significance. So though they never happened, to us they are in a real sense true and we can have real-seemimg memories of. And yet Sara Woodruff’s long wait is founded ironically on a lie – so that subtilizes this concept of truth even further.
I have considered this concept now for many years. And now I found a way of examining it properly. Hare’s Choice is about children in a school making a story about a dead hare found by the road. In their story, the hare is personified, lives, performs great deeds. And in the afterlife she is presented with a choice. Does she enter the limitless place where all living creatures, from insects to eagles, go after death – or is she admitted to a tiny exclusive Heaven inhabited by story characters – Peter Rabbit, Hazel, Fiver, Mr Toad? She has had two lives, one as a real hare, one as a Story Hare. Which is she to choose?
You can have no idea what a relief final publication of this book is to me. These three short children’s books were published in 1988, 1992 and 1993 respectively. The long gap between Hare and Badger is significant. When I wrote Hare’s Choice I intended it to be a stand-alone. Hare makes her choice but I could not, would not, even attempt to say what it was because I couldn’t presume to speak on behalf of this wonderful, inscrutable animal. For three years, I stubbornly refused even to speculate on it whenever I was asked.
Then two things happened. A primary school head wrote to me saying her pupils loved the book but were ‘very distressed’ not to know where Hare went. There was more than a hint in the letter that to tell them was my duty. Then, the wonderful and much-lamented Meg Rutherford, who did the marvellous illustrations, rang me to say that there were badgers digging in her garden and she wanted to draw them I said ‘Great, can I have one of the pictures?’ and she said ‘No, I want you to write about them so I can make an illustration.’
So I wrote her a pretty awful poem about a badger, which compared shamefully with the poems of the real poets who contributed to her book. It was published as Meg Rutherford’s Book of Animal Poems (Simon and Schuster). To think this comparison was laid bare for the public to see was really quite embarrassing!
But it made me realise that a Hare sequel was necessary because a different possibility in the nature of the Choice had occurred to me and perhaps I might eventually have some idea of what it really meant. Meg had given me a clue: I had to consider what the Choice involved for different creatures and what stories involved for the people who heard them and composed them. This new book would have to be about Badgers, animals which have fascinated me for many years, almost as much as hares have.
So I set about writing Badger’s Fate. This is a much darker book than Hare’s Choice. The first book is about the ‘truth’ of stories. The second deals with the paradox that if stories have ‘truth’ which is validated by our own experience and empathy then it follows that they must be true to themselves, even if what we find out when their logic is unveiled is not what we want to hear – or even think about.
To my mind, there is a great difference between ‘ending’ (or ‘conclusion’) and ‘closure’. Stories, as we know, never really end: there always seems more to say. Yes, the badger-baiters should be caught, stand trial, be sentenced. This is a logical consequence that might seem to settle the whole thing once and for all. But it is not really part of the story. Emma alone knows this – because she discovered the badger and so has seen the real conclusion for herself. So the story-teller, as well as being the creator of artifice, is also the truthteller. The story is about the badger: after the badger is dead, all which follows is irrelevant, even the attainment of justice.
Which led to another consideration of the nature and necessity of stories. In Badger’s Fate, Derek and Kirsty both provide their own endings. One, more typical of boys, leads to a fightback by the animals armed to the teeth and the death by heat-seeking missile of the evil leader of the human invaders. The other had a more obviously feminine emphasis. The badgers escape and find safety beyond the range of the humans. Then each child points out the fatal flaw in the other’s version. One ending has had the class standing up and cheering, the other brought out sighs of relief and satisfaction. But we know that neither is sufficient for logic or truth. Emma alone is the truthteller.
But under what circumstances can all the children be the truthtellers? This leads on to another aspect of stories: why can they be not so much important as necessary for people? Perhaps it is when the subject is close – even vital - to the tellers and they have to work the ending out for themselves in an intimate and personal way – in the face of a crisis, perhaps, involving the closure of their little school and the break-up of a little society, self-renewing each year, which stood almost like a collective character in its own right?
Well these stories sprang from real-life situations in schools in which I was closely involved. I wrote them soon after I was, as County English Adviser for Hertfordshire, taking part in an inspection of all the really small primary schools in the county. Those who don’t know Hertfordshire tend to think of it as an extension of London, full of motorways and railways and far too many people. Not so. After all, it stretches from London’s suburbs in the south to Cambridgeshire and nearly to the Fens in the north. There are great tracts of countryside full of lovely villages, farms and gentle yet sometimes almost spectacular, scenery. And nestling in between them are, or were, dozens of tiny schools. In 1984, their future, in an atmosphere of value for money and economy of scale, was being questioned. Our task was to test if they really justified their continuing existence.
Our answer was pretty well unanimous. We felt they offered pupils a unique and precious experience, which was not necessarily qualitatively different from children’s normal experience in schools, but certainly unique, different and worthy to be perpetuated. And, in those now far-off days of wisdom in education, our opinion was accepted. Later on, after I had left the County, a colder wind was blowing and, one by one, the little schools were being closed and their organic, self-sufficient groups were being scattered to the winds
Now I realised where my stories should be set. One such tiny school with barely fifty children on the roll, with just two teachers and the whole natural world round them as a constant stimulus.
The stories have a similar form and structure. I didn’t have to work this out; it was there already in the very concept. I didn’t have formal plans before I started. I knew the sequence of events but their consequences and implications almost formed themselves. I don’t think I have ever felt such satisfaction in writing as I did with these.
So the end of the trilogy is the end of the school. And the children’s group story is about the possible destruction of the animals’ home and their escape to a new home – which means adaptation and, if possible, acceptance. So in this story, Hawk’s Vision, the main creature, in this case a hawk, is not the victim but the enabler and is still flying at the end. Shiva, both creator and destroyer. The class itself is now the main character and the actual destroyer and creator are both embedded within it and between them provide the story’s central conflict.
In some ways, the ending of Hawk’s Vision is simple - sadness, regret and loss, especially for the teachers. In others, it is deeply ambiguous – not from design but from inevitability, because the children’s futures, though superficially destined, are not emotionally settled in what might yet turn out to be hostile environments. The use of the word ‘ separate’ in the very last sentence seemed suitable at the time. Only later did I find it contained several implications that I hadn’t considered, or even realized, but which gave it an extra resonance.
So there we were. Three separate but linked novels, published in 1988, 1992 and 1993 respectively. And I longed for an omnibus edition. But four years had elapsed between Hare and Badger and by then Hare, which had caused quite a stir in its first year or so, and picked up an American publisher and even a translation into Spanish, had lost its immediate audience who would have expected sequels. Scholastic did say they would publish a single-volume version – but it was pulled because of some rigmarole which seemed to involve money in some form or another! When Hare was republished by Barn Owl my hopes were renewed – but Ann Jungman’s Barn Owl was a tiny, though influential, publisher and did a beautiful reissue of Hare in 2006, but couldn’t begin even to think about an omnibus.
So my ambition seemed gone for ever. Until of course Createspace and then KDP came along. But there were obviously two main obstacles. Getting Meg’s beautiful illustrations in was not going to be easy. But worse than that, there were no digital versions of the books. Hare was typed out laboriously on a fairly antique electric typewriter and the finished MS had pages which were like thin solid slabs of white slate because of the layers of Tipp-ex - and is anyway now in the archives of Seven Stories in Newcastle. The other two were done on an ancient Atari computer given to me by my son after his university paid half the cost of an Apple Mac for all its graduate students, using a long -defunct word processing program onto floppy disks which I’ve lost anyway. So I needed the books digitised. Who by? I asked around, and David Penney of ALLI gave me the answer. Digitise my Books (www.digitisemybooks.co.uk). Marvellous. I contacted Philip, who provided me with Word docs and PDFs out of original editions of all three books separately and then as an omnibus, very quickly and far more cheaply than I had expected.
So shouldn’t everything now be easy? I soon found that trying to bond pictures and text in a publishable form was as elusive and slippery as trying to write with mercury as ink. Months passed and I was still no nearer. I nearly gave up and turned to professional help. But this was a labour of love and a matter of pride and I had to do it myself. One last effort. And in the end I managed it. The paperback was published in September.
Even so, I had doubts. To publish books, which first appeared thirty years ago, set in an obsolete situation could be damningly interpreted as VANITY PROJECT! However, a critical remark I’ve always cherished, first said, I think, by WH Auden in respect of Thomas Hardy’s poetry – ‘If you think you have found a work’s greatest weakness, please consider for a moment that it may instead be its greatest strength.’ And the more I thought about it, the more sure I was that this very obsolescence was the best reason of all to republish the books.
In his School Librarian review of the 2006 reissue of Hare, Chris Brown, himself a former primary head teacher, wrote ‘…it is a timely testimony to the power and possibilities of a curriculum driven entirely by empathetic encouragement and above all from first-hand stimuli.’ Perfectly put. And in his article on the Hare trilogy in The Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English, Victor Watson says ‘For adult readers aware of recent changes in British primary schools , the trilogy will read a little like an elegy.’ Dead right again, because I realized that this wasn’t just a reissue of three little books. It was a howl of rage at what has been allowed – nay, forced - to happen in primary schools: a rigid, top-down tick-box mentality which values only memory to recall disparate pieces of sometimes doubtful knowledge which won’t help anyone to live a more fulfilled life (’fronted adverbials’, anybody?). There is no particular educational rationale behind it, being mainly intended, so it would seem, to determine school league-table placings.
And I realized that reissuing these books might be a tiny broadside against the mighty oaken hulls of these monstrous leviathans, so that whole generations of children are not stunted by having their creative and imaginative qualities developed or even recognized.
And in that spirit I offer them again.
As I was writing this, I read Sue Price’s marvellous review of the trilogy in her Christmas Day blog. Thanks so much, Sue. And thank you, Bill Kirton, for your lovely Hare review back in 2017 on Eclectic Electric.
These books are published under my Joslin Books imprint for my own books, with its companion list, Joslin Specials, for books by writers I have mentored and edited, mainly for The Oxford Editors. They are at present only on Amazon, though I intend to put them with Ingram Spark as well, for wider availability –when I find out how to do it!
Not yet an ebook. More trouble with pictures. Soon, I hope.
I‘ve also printed a booklet, About the Hare Trilogy, which ends with an angry rant about present-day education. If you’d like a printed copy, send me your address (to email@example.com) and it’s yours for £1 and £1 postage. Or you can have a pdf for nothing!
Have a look also at:
all six volumes of The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay
all in paperback and also on Kindle.
THANK YOU EVERYONE who came to the LiterArties Auction on Wednesday 11th Dec
for the donated books and artwork
to Thirtyeight cafe
to the Scott Rice Jazz Quintet
for your generous bids!
We raised just under £500 in bids, PLUS generous collection tins
for Crisis Oxford.
A fun evening was had by all, supported by the Scott Rice Jazz Quintet
creating a festive buzz.
With 3 exhibitions back to back at West Ox Arts, Vale & Downland Museum and THIRTYEIGHT cafe in Summertown, it has been a very busy few weeks setting them up. Each has not been without its issues, but we have worked our way through and are ready for viewing!
WEST OX ARTS - 12th October to 9th November
VALE & DOWNLAND MUSEUM - 14th October to 2nd November
THIRTEIGHT Cafe, Summertown - ongoing
For Artweeks 2019 LiterArties Kamal Lathar and his partner Frauke Woenig decided to create a pop-up gallery in the centre of Summertown, Oxford. Conceived out of a shared, strong desire to "see what it was like to run a gallery" and to have a wonderful exhibition venue for his art in the heart of Summertown, an incredible space was eventually born for Kamal.
The Spice Lounge restaurant kindly offered an overgrown backyard that Kamal immediately saw tremendous potential for. Straight forward gestation...not in the least! After clearing the vegetation, several delays, construction issues (no surprises there) and other hurdles to overcome, a stunning, temporary gallery was erected. Just in time!
Bringing in the art and hanging... after several very long days, with a 'few pairs of helping hands, incorporating simple white paper and brilliant hanging technology, the exhibition was ready.
A stunning space, full of light displayed the LiterArties artwork to its best. Around 400 visitors were stunned that such an incredible area could be put together so imaginatively, to such effect.
Congratulations Kamal and Frauke!
RENTING THIS SPACE SUMMER 2019
Kamal Lathar has the entire pop-up stored safely ready for next year at the same venue, The Spice Lounge in Summertown. If you are interested in renting this structure over the summer 2019 for other purposes, or have any ideas for its use, Kamal and Frauke are interested to hear from you.
LiterArties Arts at The Old Fire Station exhibition follows on very quickly from The Jam Factory exhibition. A wonderful light space, the gallery does everyone's work full justice and also showcases our books.
Old Fire Station, Oxford 8th March - 11th May
LiterArties Maeve Bayton is having a solo exhibition at the Stanton St John village shop, Oxford OX33 1HD (see map below). There will be a collection of her beautiful paintings, collages, lino prints and cards for the WHOLE of December 2019.
Stanton St John village shop
13 Middle Rd, Stanton St John, Oxford OX33 1HD
LiterArties' Deborah Martin's painting technique illustrated by a step-by-step example.
"I thought it might be interesting to show a work in progress at the various stages from start to completion, as an example of the type of demo/talk/ workshops I offer. This painting I'm calling 'Heatherlands' ...
Step 1: Pick out the colours you see and place them onto the canvas in blocks of colour. Looks like a weird kind of patchwork, doesn’t it?
Step 2: Start smoothing with a fan brush. This is sfumato, a-la-Leonardo da Vinci; think Mona Lisa smile. Starting to look a little more like a sky now …
Step 3: Add more highlights and then go back to smoothing again. It doesn’t matter if the colours blend. They do in real life too. And it doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of anything either. It’s YOUR sky …
Step 4: Now look at your palette – ugh! What a mess; just the way I like it. What colours will you use, and which have you finished with? Get rid of the defunct colours- don’t be a messy Tike like me!
Step 5: Vary the type of fan brush you use to blend colours, I use about 6 different ones in total. Keep smoothing until you’re happy with the effect and you have ‘sky’.
Step 6: Start adding the landscape, starting with faint delineation, and then building until you’re happy with the transition form sky to land. Now start to add the foreground …
Step 7: Use blocks of colour again, but also go with the shape of the land or the foliage. In this case it’s banks of heather so an arc shape movement works best.
Step 8: Add the path. I used a palette knife – good for coverage and you can get good effects by smoothing and stippling and scarping with it. It’s not just black, white and grey either. Look at all the other colours that are in there – yellow, cerise, purple, green, etc. Nothing is ever a block colour. There are always at least two other colours involved too.
Step 9: Now briefly smooth – but only a minute amount – and then stipple using the varying shades of the heather banks, following the line of the foliage. Sweep grass and underlying stalks upwards with a small fan brush to give the effect of stems.
LiterArties, people who embrace, explore and capture their creativity in many ways.