Monday, 28 November 2011


I've just been whizzing round my local shops and have come home with a small treasure - two reels of Gutermann thread. We have at least six hairdressers, four shoe shops and a nail bar, but nowhere to buy threads, needles, fabrics etc (and I speak as a fabric junkie) so when someone told me that a tiny dry cleaners had bought in a range of Gutermann to fill the gap, I was there in a trice. Which makes me wonder - do shopping centres create people, or do people create shopping centres? Are all our prospective young dress designers and our knitting aunties and grannies now queuing up in the nail bar?

This morning I read with great amusement a blog about the problems of using swear words when writing for children and Young Adults. It seems that at least one library in America refused to stock a book containing the word 'damn'. A way around this is to invent words that stand in for the real thing, but how offensive is the real thing? Most of our current swear words have lost any power to shock, mainly from over-use - the words I sometimes use to address my computer when it's playing up would have horrified my mother, but we do need a magic sound-weapon to use when things go wrong. When things go very wrong, I think multiple-word curses are possibly more effective. A curse can be personalised, and edited imaginatively, although I've been told that in some languages, the whole curse thing can be compressed into a single sound, akin to a swear word, as in: 'I will do an obscene thing to your sister in front of your mother in church' (which I believe might be Hungarian).

In the past few weeks, I've been reading a trio of very different books, each one a delight. Penny Dolan's MOUSE, with its well-researched nineteenth century background and its clever, convoluted plot, was simply un-put-downable. It even grabbed my husband David, whose reading tastes are usually very different from mine. I enjoyed ONE DAY so much that I think I may pass on the film because the book invoked very personal images of the people involved, while Michelle Lovric's BOOK OF HUMAN SKIN had this human's flesh creeping at times - she's an amazing writer.

Coming soon as an e-book (apologies for the TV cliche) - my 2001 time-slip novel based in both the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries - TO SUMMON A SPIRIT, first published by Walker Books. The ideas in the story had been brewing inside my head for years, initially triggered by the ornate stones set randomly into front garden walls in my north London suburb - where had they come from? And the street adjacent to ours which always flooded after a lot of rain - did it want to return to being a lake? Writing this book took me on a fascinating journey into local history (which I then, of course, promptly subverted). The theme of the book was of an undying friendship spanning centuries, and one of the best personal reviews I received for it came from an eleven year old girl who said simply: I think you wrote this story for me.


Dan Holloway said...

i have many memories of Guttermann cottons, and one of the great treasure troves I've discovered recently is the fabric market and environs in Birmingham

Lee said...

I suspect many of our prospective dress designers as well as sewing aunties/grannies are queuing up at Amazon (as I do!):

A heartfelt review like the one from that 11-year-old girl is one of the main reasons for epublishing - and is far more precious than gold (or royalties).

Jan Needle said...

altho my name's needle, i wouldn't know a gutermann thread if one bit me on the nose, but i do know a lot about swearing. enid's reference to words that would shock her mother is particuarly interesting, because i'm happy to report that i learnt most of my swearwords from my mum, who used them with great liberality and extreme obscenity. my dad, on the other hand, rarely went beyond bloody. all my five children grew up in an atmosphere of 'liberal' language, and only the daughter ended up as a committed swearer. but they all know the value and power of such words. i really find the way some adults respond to swearwords in kids' books, or even ancient cusswords like damn, terribly depressing. it's not only in america, although there seem to be many cases of genuine cultural lunacy there at the moment. it's screaming hypocrisy, of course. we all know children swear amongst themselves, and i utterly reject the notion that swearing debases language. we all grow up with it, it's part of human intercourse (also a banned word in the usa, i imagine), and it enriches at least as much as it debases. and sales aren't everything, are they?

ps. much to my surprise, this comment seemed to attach itself to the wrong blog. i hope the computer gets it right this time.

madwippitt said...

Hells bells and buckets of blood. That used to be a favourite when I was younger, and permissible although 'bloody hell' wasn't.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

What a wonderful comment from that 11 year old girl, Enid. Comments like that make you feel honoured to be a writer.