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is our THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE RADIATOR, by Martin Slevin.

It doesn’t sound a massively promising set-up, being the story of how – in early middle age – Martin has just gone through a difficult divorce and has had to move back in to his childhood home, a bungalow in Coventry, with his mum.

And she has Alzheimer’s.

But I promise you it will make you laugh and weep, often at the same time – especially if you have a relative with this terrible and distressing condition.

It’s won a number of awards, has hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon, and has just been featured in Living With Dementia magazine, the official magazine of the Alzheimer’s Society.

littlegirlintheradiatorv2_blogcover-WEB

The magazine asked for comments from readers. Here are a few of the best:

‘I’ve finished the book in a day. It’s utterly absorbing, funny, heart-breaking and recognisable.’

‘I defy you not to laugh out loud or be reduced to tears while reading it.’

‘Where this book differs is that it beautifully illustrates how funny, beautiful and heart-expanding living with dementia can be too.’

‘This book is certainly the best one I’ve read on the subject of dementia.’

‘His mum used to talk to a little girl trapped in her radiator – when she moved to a care home, it moved with her… It took him years to understand that the little girl was his mum in younger years, helplessly trapped in a situation she did not understand.’

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AS WE PLOUGH on into the New Year, which feels very similar to the old year, here’s another chance to hear Gary Bell QC on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek show and here he is on BBC Breakfast:

The paperback of Gary’s ‘hugely entertaining, heartwarming and inspiring‘ memoir ANIMAL QC will be out in March, and there will be several chances to see him speak around the country at that time.

You can contact Gary direct on twitter – @GaryBellQC

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Our favourite carol, sung by our local choir:

Coincidentally, it was written a few miles south of our office by Gustav Holst. (The Black Horse is well worth a visit; you can walk through the woods to work up a thirst.)

A Lapland Webcam.

Last minute present ideas.

Vintage Christmas cards.

Jesus of Nazareth:

Life of Brian:

A 24-hour Christmas TV channel.

Joe Tex makes an unlikely promise vis-a-vis his woman:

1.2 million stock images of Christmas.

My Treedom‘ – celebrating freedom from persecution and the right to Christmas everywhere around the world.

Christmas in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And in Brooklyn, New York, and in Rozzano, Italy.

Mulled wine and other Christmas drinks.

The best opening lines to any Christmas book ever:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Though I suppose this is the original:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The best Christmas movies ever.

Steve McQueen:

the-great-escape-original

 

SOME TIME AGO we started work on a book called CONTACT WAIT OUT. It was going to be a follow-up to IN FOREIGN FIELDS, but other projects and MoD bureaucracy got in the way and it was put off for a while.

It’s now very much back on the agenda, and we have been carrying out interviews with former soldiers and Marines for some time.

When finished it will (we hope) provide the most complete picture yet of what it was like to live and fight in Afghanistan, from private to company commander level.

In Foreign Fields paperback_InForeignFieldsPaperback-cover blog

The men and women we are interviewing are telling some of the funniest, saddest, most frustrating, most frightening, most dramatic and most horrifying stories you can possibly imagine.

We still have room to include more interviewees, so if you are interested in getting involved and telling your story please do get in touch via info@mondaybooks.com – all contacts will be treated in confidence, of course.

We’re looking not just for stories of heroism and derring-do but for tales of down-time, boredom and irritation. As with In Foreign Fields, this is a not a political book particularly – we’re really interested in telling the soldier’s story.

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RIP Jonah Lomu. I watched the 1995 Rugby World Cup semi-final in the Cock Inn in Hatfield Broad Oak. The barman, Sam, was so confident that England would win that he said he’d streak round the village if we lost.

If memory serves me, he was naked and running by half-time.

How to help your editor.

Bad advice on writing, a sad truth, and the way round it:

[H]ow do writers achieve… excellence?
Certainly not by following another piece of writing advice: Just keep writing, you’ll get better. Really? Can you imagine a hitting coach saying to a kid who wants to be a professional baseball player, Just keep swinging the bat, you’ll get better?
…When you’re working on a draft or a revision, does your mind give you the words, the sentence structures, you need to accomplish this? And, if not, why not? The default answer to this last question is “talent”: Some people have it; others, less fortunate, do not.
But the default answer, happily, is not true. Researchers have discovered that innate talent has very little, if anything, to do with expertise. Instead [it is down to] practice.
This approach requires (among other things) breaking down a complex skill – like writing – into its component sub-skills, then practicing each skill separately until it’s mastered, then putting them all together.

I’ve just finished reading David Nobbs‘ memoir I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today. David was a comic novelist and screenwriter whose most famous creation was Reginald Perrin (the title is taken from the catchphrase of Reggie’s boss, CJ). I tend not to talk about books unless I can be really positive, because I know how it feels to both authors and publishers, but David is now dead and Random House are doing okay so I’ll admit that I found it slightly disappointing. In the ‘con’ column, it’s often rambling – at nearly 500pp in the paperback edition, it could have been hacked back – and in places it feels like a series of discrete and not enormously interesting anecdotes. Often he simply admits that he can’t remember relevant details, though I suspect that he kept back some very good stories for reasons of propriety or good manners. In the ‘pro’ column he’s interesting on early showbiz – writing for That Was The Week That Was and The Two Ronnies and others – and on the business of writing for TV, albeit some years ago. There are lots of places where his slightly surreal, gentle humour shines through. He had a great ear for dialogue, and some lovely one-liners, but if you haven’t read his stuff before (and you should) I’d start with Henry Pratt and Reggie Perrin.

Now reading:

Ghettoside

 

LANCE CORPORAL JON McKinlay would have been celebrating his thirty-eighth birthday today, had he not been killed by a hidden Taliban gunman in Nahr-e Saraj, Afghanistan.

L/Cpl McKinlay was part of a joint British Army/Afghan National Army patrol, and the men had gone firm for a few moments to allow the Afghan element to pray. As Jon took out his compass to find east for them – a simple act of friendship – his attention was diverted and the gunman open-fired.

He left behind Lisa, his second wife, and her little girl Piper (whom Jon had raised as his own), his mum Valerie and a daughter and step-son, Megan and Olly, from his first marriage.

Megan – who was twelve when her dad died in 2011 – spoke to Graham Bound about Jon (as did Lisa, Valerie and a number of his Army mates) for our book At The Going Down Of The Sun.

She told Graham how she liked to remember her teaching her to ride her bike, and taking her rock-climbing.

‘One memory that makes me smile still is the time, when I was seven, when I swallowed a ring,’ she told Graham. ‘Dad rushed me to the hospital, and they said that if it didn’t pass through me, they’d have to operate. Dad had the job of checking to see if I’d passed it! He found it the day before they were due to operate on me. Dad always laughed about this and said that it was an example of true love.

‘In a way, now, after three years, it’s a lot easier to cope with, because I’ve got used to knowing that he was killed. But only in a way. I think about dad all the time. I have lots of pictures of him in my room, so I see him every day. I feel sad when I think about him, but I have memories and pictures. I wish I had more. I’m very proud of my dad. He is my hero.’

It was and is an honour to be able to tell LCpl Jon McKinlay’s story, the more so as Remembrance Day approaches.

Jon McKinlay and MeganJon and Megan

Image 1Jon and Lisa on their wedding day

 

Gary Bell QC – author of Animal QC – is speaking live in Nottingham next Thursday (November 12). If you live anywhere near it will be well-worth attending – Gary’s an exceptionally funny and interesting speaker. All profits from the event will go to ‘Help a Nottinghamshire Child’ which aims to keep Nottinghamshire youngsters away from crime – ironic, given his own brushes with the law in his youth.

After highly successful appearances at the Ilkley and Wigtown book festivals, Gary will also be appearing at various other festivals next year. He’s also talking in Clitheroe and Cheltenham in the New Year – more details as and when.

In other news, good point – what is so bad about trying to make money out of ‘middlebrow’ books (which is very much not easy anyway)?

I mean, come on – we all know that ninety per cent of the books which win the Booker Prize and probably half of those which get reviewed in The Guardian or the London Review of Books are read by virtually no-one in the actual world, and are much more about intellect-signalling by the editors, reviewers and purchasers who just want to put them on their shelves. This is certainly what I do – here’s a random shot of one of our bookcases:

intellect-signalling bookshelves

This counts as intellect-signalling by my standards

I know I’ve read the PJ O’Rourke and Belloc, but of the others… if I’ve read half of these I don’t remember it (which is possible, I suppose) (and many of them are pretty middlebrow anyway). If literary types are coming round, I just bone up on a few wiki synopses so that I can talk knowledgeably, or skilfully divert the subject to what was on telly yesterday or the weather if I haven’t had time.

(On that latter point, I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to produce jackets for Gogol or Proust which could be slipped over one’s Lee Child or Dean Koontz for train-reading purposes. It would only work with people opposite, of course.)

Where was I? Books bound with human skin (don’t be eating your lunch while reading this).

Amazon is opening its first actual book shop, in Seattle. (The story was originally broke by Shelf Awareness.) It will stock 6,000-ish titles (which isn’t very many for the size of the place), all face-out, and will order them in based on some sort of algorithm which uses local peoples’ preferences. Prices will be in line with online, apparently.

Some people seriously want to nationalise Twitter. It lost $132 million in the last quarter and is struggling, apparently.

Five books about Guy Fawkes.

 

 

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