Monday, 27 July 2009

Beginning Again - Part Two (A Writer's Dog--In Memoriam)

It is a fact that dogs (if you are a dog-lover and owner) worm themselves into your heart and your affections with ease. I have been around dogs all my life--labradors, spaniels, dandie dinmonts), but none of them have ever been 'mine', they have always been shared. Or at least that was the case till last April, when Sophy the Teckel Goddess entered my world.

I had always wanted a Teckel (and for those in ignorance of what a teckel is, it is a very large wire-haired dachshund, bred to hunt boar and deer). So it was with delight (and some trepidation) that I picked up a small and hairy puppy person from Hay-on-Wye. Naturally, I wanted a dog with literary connections. After all she was going to be the Writer's Dog. And indeed she was. She soon learned that the Little Red Bed under my desk was an excellent place for napping and chewing toes. Teaching her not to chew the computer cables was a more difficult task.

But what she loved most of all was to watch the starlings and the sparrows and the swallows, and to chase them round the garden, barking in a sort of joyous shriek of ecstasy which became the background soundtrack to my writing life. She was also, as all hounds are, an escape artist of enormous skill and cunning, and it was this that killed her in the end. Tunnelling under the carefully nailed on and pegged down wire while chasing an especially elusive bird she fell into deep water and drowned before we could rescue her. She was only seven months old, and it is the silence that is hardest to bear.

I tell you about her not to elicit sympathy (please don't), but because by writing about her, she lives on in the writing. The memories of her are, for me, a precious short legacy of happiness which I will never lose. The writer's mind is a treasure chest in which can be found many things, sorrow and grief as well as joy and laughter. I am glad that this is so.

A friend kindly sent me the following poem. I think perhaps it will have a resonance for anyone who has suffered a loss--of any kind. It was no good telling me not to weep, though.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Beginning Again - Part One (Campaigning for the Book)

Illness, a major sadness and a busy schedule have meant that I have been absent for longer than I intended from the blog. Apologies to all who have, perhaps, missed me and my odd ragbag postings. Now I have many things to write about, and not much time before I am off again--this time to Italy, where I hope to find inspiration for a new novel (as well as enough sunshine to see me through an impending dark winter).

So...first, last month's 'Campaign for the Book Conference', which took place at King Edward's School in Birmingham. From little acorns do great oaks grow. Alan Gibbons set up the Campaign less than a year ago, and it is entirely due to his passion and energy for libraries both school and public that the Campaign is now becoming a forceful pressure group for political change. I got involved by offering to set up a CFTB page on Facebook and get the Campaign information out into the world that way, (thereby coming into contact with lovely librarians from all over the UK, some of whom attended on the day). I was delighted to meet those who could, and also to meet (at long last) the Great Bookwitch, whose blog on literary matters I follow avidly.

The talking at the conference was wide-ranging and well-argued, covering a number of key subjects such as safeguarding against cuts, how best to support School Library Services, stories about what is 'happening on the ground', seizing the opportunities to widen library use and much more . The Hall was crowded with people who care about books and reading. Even the politicians seemed to think that libraries are A Good Thing. And of course they are, which is why the threatened closures in Swindon and the Wirral, and the sacking of librarians is such a disgrace. Did you know that that, in the UK, every prison has a statutory duty to provide a library for its inmates? This, of course, is right and necessary. What is disgraceful is that the same statutory provision does not apply to our UK schools. That's right. You read correctly. No school in the UK HAS to have a library (though many do). Alan has now started a petition to remedy this. Sign it, please, if you would like to and you haven't done so already and pass the word on. The closing date is 11 December 2009, and at present there are 3380 signatures.

But I have a more immediate question for you. Why SHOULD it be necessary to campaign and petition for something so fundamental. This is shocking to many.

Our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, says that 'Reading is probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of.' Apart from the fact that reading is not a 'policy', I agree with him. It is therefore all the more surprising to me to find that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls has already (apparently) rejected the arguments for statutory libraries months before the extent of support for the petition has been gauged. saying that: ‘the provision of a school library is not a statutory requirement, and there are no current plans to alter this and change the legislation.’

I leave you with quotes from two 11 year-old readers, one in the UK, one from the Lebanon.

"The pen has imagination, the sword can only kill.' from a library user in Southwark.

"Writing is a medicine for the soul.' from a library user in Beirut, Lebanon.

I am not, in general, a political person, but it is for children such as these, and the many more whose only hope of access to the power of reading and the imagination is through libraries that I shall go on Campaigning for the Book. As Alan said in his message to our politicians and policy makers at the end of the Conference, 'I'm in it for the long haul, to make them listen, to make them understand.'

Friday, 10 July 2009

Birthday! Cake! Prizes--Join the ABBA Birthday Blogparty Over At the Other Place Today!


Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Before the First Snow kit by Lorie Davison