Friday, 9 December 2011

Where To Begin? by Julia Jones

I could begin with an apology – almost as soon as I posted my blog last month I was swept into a family crisis which plot-twisted into a broken leg and a week in hospital, a poorly-thought-out chapter which finished only the night before my partner was due to be admitted (to the same ward) for spinal surgery. Since then there has been no need to watch any episodes of Holtby City, Casualty or even re-runs of Emergency Ward 10. Instead we sit around in our double bed trying to keep warm - rather like the elderly grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (I really ought to be knitting nightcaps now I've completed my essential toe-cosy.) So I didn’t manage the follow-up correspondence that is one of the pleasures of blog-writing. Apologies especially to Enid Richemont who asked a question and never got an answer.

Or I could begin with congratulations – to former Authors Electric blogger Nicola Morgan who has re-published her first novel Mondays are Red to widespread attention and acclaim. I’m now counting the days until Jan Needle bursts upon the world with his own early work re-published in ebook format. This re-vivifying of personal backlists is, in my opinion, the greatest boon in electric publishing. If the GoogleBooks project takes off, readers with any downloaded e-reading app should be able to access anything they like from their favourite authors without even having to truffle through the local Oxfam box.

But, as it’s December, I’m going to begin with a little story, a heart-warmer. It’s called ‘Mothers Lost and Found’ and it was first published in the New York Times May 8th 2005.




A young writer, Ellen Pall, is moving to live in New York for the first time. She follows the estate agent's advice and goes to look at an apartment for rent in Greenwich Village. “As soon as I went inside, I felt that this was a place where I could live. Even the tiny ground floor vestibule was quiet and snug, comfortable and somehow familiar …” Ellen (this is a true story) had lost her mother at the age of 7. Her father had re-married and Ellen had grown up questing unsuccessfully for this mother she had never properly known. “My mother remained a ghostly figure lost in a vanished time, vivid only for her sad and early death from a rare form of anaemia.”


You’ve guessed what happens next, of course – the strangely welcoming apartment turns out to be the precise place where Ellen’s mother, Jo, had lived in the late 1930s when she too was a young artist in New York. But the story goes one better. The discovery of the apartment leads Ellen to reconnect with the woman who had shared it with her mother so long ago. “From Debbie, over the next twenty years I learned to know Jo as I never could have done if the shared address had not drawn us together.” Not just nostalgia but a solid enduring friendship between two women of different generations. When Debbie died, in 2004, Ellen set up a website in her memory http://www.debbiesidea.com/



Debbie’s Idea – which Ellen has put into practice – centred on the delight of discovering a new author and the difficulty of knowing Where to Begin? “Start reading an author with a poor or atypical example of his work, she observed, and you would likely never read that writer again--perhaps losing in the process a world of pleasure and knowledge.” Friends give this advice to each other, so do booksellers and librarians. (I do hope other people caught the valiant defence of professional bookselling by Vivian Archer of the Newham Bookshop on Monday’s PM programme on BBC Radio 4.)



Perhaps, as authors, we might all like to pick just one book – it might be our first or it might be our latest – which we would like to stand as our introduction to a new, inquisitive reader? My introduction to Ellen Pall, the book which sparked an electronic, transatlantic friendship, was my first book, a biography, The Adventures of Margery Allingham, which had been newly re-published in memory of my own dear friend of a different generation …


But that’s a different story.

4 comments:

Jan Needle said...

julia please, please PLEASE tell me you didn't really knit a toe-cosy! i've heard of dyslexia (i can even spell it, unlike my dyslexic daughter), but surely the word is tea-cosy? the photograph is obviously a fake.

the rebursting of needle on the world is getting ever closer, and it won't be all reprints either. i've done a couple of new ones, and albeson and the germans and my mate shofiq (already on smashwords) will be on kindle too.

in the meantime (as one good plug deserves another) let me tell you people out there that julia's second in the strong winds trilogy - the ravelled flag - is as amazing as the first.

best of luck to your leg and francis's back!

julia jones said...

definitely TOE-cosy. Wish you could see the real thing. Francis thinks that I should stand (stand??) outside the fracture clinic and make our fortune selling them in many even gaudier shades. (This one for read is red and yellow with flecks of green pink and purple on the business end.) Just had a good idea - can't think what fate bad enought for Toxic in bk 3. Maybe I should break her leg and doom her to wear similar home-knitted creations ... mmmmmm!

Enid Richemont said...

Julia - I've by now forgotten the question (but thanks for the mention). How, how, HOW do you knit a toe-cosy? Please publish instructions, pref. with the aid of a really funny cartoonist.

Spinal problems are trespassing on my territory at present. Do email me.

I loved your story about Mothers Lost and Found...it has the patterning of a novel.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Dear Julia
I too have forgotten the question - too busy chuckling at the toe-cosy :) Thank you for the post: I enjoyed the story, and thanks too for news that Nicola Morgan (a superb writer of books for young people) has brought out Mondays Are Red in ebook format, and looking forward to following Jan Needle's ebook debut! As for recommending a book which would stand out as a good introduction to my writing...heck ...I only have one book published (so far!), it will have to be that one ;o)
Just looked up The Adventures of Magery Allingham, whose work I admire, did you say it is also coming out one-book???