Monday, 20 May 2013


On Amazon Kindle now


A Writer’s Notebook

No. 41, May 2013

James Watson
Friends and contributors



1. Pigs Might Fly: Author’s Introduction &
    sample chapter
2. Poems of Place (18)
3. Quote of the Month: It’s that man again
4. Review: Tony Williams on Barbara Kingsolver
5. Ned Baslow to Agamemon etc.
Editor’s note


A new novel for teens of all ages
 Save the Ritz? Dad’s in hospital and 16-year old film buff and general layabout Clark Gable Stevens (Curlew to his friends) is faced with the biggest challenge in his life, rescuing his Dad’s cinema from the clutches of the developers. The obstacles are gigantic; the chances of success for Curlew’s Save the Ritz Campaign as likely as seeing a flight of pigs crossing the skies of Fetterton. Does destiny deter Curlew? Read on Kindle.

Author’s introduction
This story is set at a time when the only computers were as big as a house. Young people could not e-mail each other because there was no such thing as e-mail and the mobile phone was light years away; and as for television – well, just a few of the better-off were installing their black-and-white sets. In rural areas, milk floats were pulled by horses; and plenty of folks had to go down the backyard to the lavatory. It was even possible to play football and cricket in the street without being mown down by motorists speeding to work.

 Cold walks home
Going to the pictures was still the entertainment which got people out of their homes; unless they were in to dancing, in which case they'd gather to do the quickstep or the modern waltz in the church hall, or in the cities, the Palais de Dance. Girls got pregnant, but not quite as often as they do today and the best a boy could expect after a night out was a hug and a kiss – and a cold walk home.
Life was often hard, but the pictures opened up the world to adventure, fantasy and romance. The local cinema held a very special place in the hearts of communities, far more than do the multiplex entertainment centres of today.

However, in the minds of developers and businessmen out to garner profits after years of war and peacetime hardship, the future belonged to the shopping basket. Cinemas were prime sites for demolition and replacement by supermarkets, shopping malls and car parks.

Progress or preservation?
This was also the time when trams ceased to ply the streets of Britain, when thousands of miles of rail were closed in order to give free rein to the motorcar and the motorway. It was a time when old buildings came down and concrete skyscrapers began to take their place. Neighbourhoods vanished: was anybody consulted?
It is always a problem to know what, in the name of progress, should be held on to; what should be cherished and preserved in face of change. Each individual, each group of individuals, each community must decide for themselves. Sometimes there was conflict, though most often, resignation; only a few, like Curlew Stevens on behalf of his hospital-bound father, stood up to be counted.

Sample chapter
1. A slight accident
Curlew Stevens opens the swing door of the Ritz cinema, Fetterton, and hears a terrible groan. 'Son,' comes the voice of his father, Leonard Lamont Stevens, proprietor, projectionist and movie maniac. 'I've had a bit of a tumble.' Curlew glances up at the trap door leading into the projection room, fondly known as the Cockpit. No ladder – so that means Dad forgot to descend the safe way.
   'I tripped over Mrs. Mead's confounded mop and bucket.'
    Curlew has now been waiting in Hospital reception for a couple of hours. A doctor arrives with a clipboard under his arm. 'You are Mr. Stevens' next of kin?'
   'I'm his son, if that's what you mean.' For a horrible moment he thinks Dad's passed on and joined the angels. 'My Dad's not –'
   'Kicked the bucket? – not quite.' Curlew wonders whether the doctor always speaks to people like this. 'Do you have any older, mature relatives?'
   'My Aunt Annie's mature.'
   'Then we'll need to speak to her.'
   Curlew doesn't think this is a good idea. 'She's an archeologist, you see.'
   'What's that got to do with anything?' queries the doctor.
   'She lives in the past – with the Picts from over the border, and the Roman Ninth Legion. It's no good talking to her about the present. Can I see my Dad now, please?'
   'You'll find him somewhat confused, having suffered concussion. He keeps claiming that saboteurs are trying to close down his cinema.'
   Curlew shakes his head sadly. 'Not saboteurs, just the Town Council. They want to shut the Ritz, flatten it and build a superstore.'
   'Well your father will be out of action for almost as long as it takes to build a superstore.' He is joking a little, of course. 'Okay, let's say a month at least. And I have to warn you, he's going to be a bad patient. His right arm, right shin, left wrist and collarbone are broken. You'd better go and inspect the damage.'
   As Curlew enters Ward 3 a nurse approaches and hands him a bunch of dahlias. He recognises them instantly – they are from Mrs. Mead's husband's pride and joy, his greenhouse. So she really had left her mop where Dad would trip over it.
   'Dahlias, Dad, they're good enough to win a prize.' The doctor had forgotten to mention Dad's bandaged head. 'Painful, is it, Dad?'
   'Agony, son – all over.'
   Curlew asks, 'Are we insured, Dad, against accident?'
   'Hadn't the ready cash to renew. But that's on one of my lists.'
   'You've got to rest, Dad. Doctor's orders.'
   'I'll rest in my grave, not before. Stuff the dahlias, or better still give them to the Sister with dark curly hair, with my compliments. Now are you listening?'
   'I am, Dad. All ears.'
   ‘Right, now while I'm cooped up in here for a day or two –’
   'Longer than that, Dad.'
   Dad is hearing only himself. 'Pay attention, Clark – I've got a thousand and one things demanding urgent attention. I've made three Lists of Things to Do.'
   Curlew sighs. 'Give me the lists, Dad, but don't call me Clark.'
   'Curlew was okay for when you were a child, Clark. That's over. From this day on, you're to be a man, ready to take on responsibilities. The Ritz cries out for rescue. It'll be touch and go, but I have every faith in you. Proud of you, indeed.'
   'Thanks, Dad. But why don't we just face facts?'
   'Facts? That's just what my three lists are designed to do. The first concerns matters of life and death. The second is very urgent and the third can be done at your leisure so long as it's completed by Wednesday at the latest. Are you listening?'
   'Every word, Dad, honest.' All at once, the lifestyle of Curlew Stevens, happy-go-lucky wanderer of the highways and byways, is to alter drastically, probably for ever.
   As if to stress the point, Dad repeats himself. 'You're going to have to do some growing up, my lad...No more fantasies. These broken bones are for real. My life's work has just shot right over the precipice – only you can save it.'
   Curlew thinks, if there's a kid around these parts who needs to grow up, it's Dad. 'According to the Doc, Dad, you're going to be out of action for at least a month. The Ritz can't run without you. She's finished.'
   'Finished? – my Ritz, my darling? How dare you say such things in front of a sick man?'
   'She's falling down, Dad. A lump of ceiling nearly hit me on Friday night. We're in debt up to your neck. The bank won't stump up. TV's finished us off.'
   'Never. One day people'll see the light. They'll flock back to the cinemas. I've seen a vision.'
   'It's okay for you, Dad. They feed you in this place.'
   'Get some chips. Mrs. Bulmer'll give you credit.'
   'She's been giving us credit since Christmas.'
   'Then throw yourself on the mercy of The Other Stevens.'
   Dad always refers to his brother Alfred and his family as The Others; and sometimes as The White Sheep of the family. 'He's pots of money.'
   'Uncle Alf doesn't even speak to you, Dad. Not since the language you used when he told you to sell the Ritz and get a real job.'
   'Then get Sue to plead with him. She's a soft spot for you, always has had.'
    'No she hasn't Dad,' replies Curlew, flattered and willing to be convinced; for Susan, the adopted daughter of Uncle Alf and Aunt Pheobe, is the golden girl of his dreams (unfortunately she is also the golden girl of a lot of other boys' dreams in Fetterton and beyond). 'And she's under orders not to mix with the likes of me.'
   'So what is it makes her turn up regular as clockwork at the Ritz every Friday night?'
   'A coincidence, Dad. Anyway, she likes films.'
   'A coincidence that Fridays is your turn to do the projecting? Eh, and have that cosy little Cockpit all to yourselves?'
   'She's been banned, Dad.'
   'Talk to Sue. Five hundred quid will see us through. In the meantime, I shall not be idle, believe me. I have ideas. We'll hold an international film festival.'
   Curlew cannot choke back a groan. 'Oh no, Dad! Not foreign films with subtitles.'
   'Whyever not?'
   Curlew does not want to upset his Dad: let him dream. He grabs the Lists. 'Got to fly. Long live the Ritz, eh?'
   Dad is already far away. 'I think I'll start with films from Korea. Or maybe Hungary...'

A review of Pigs Might Fly posted on Amazon Kindle, signed PH, 2 May 2013:

***** A caper laden gem

Pigs Might Fly is a wonderful evocation of life in the recent past, however the passion shown by the main protagonist to preserve the local cinema remains as relevant today. This is a fast moving, caper laden story of complex relationships, commercial greed and love of our cultural heritage. James Watson is clearly passionate about film and the education of his readers and this book will have you scampering to hire or buy some of the many films referenced in the course of the narrative as well as looking more closely at the architectural gems that are our old cinema buildings. This is a truly enjoyable book and it is to be hoped that a television producer chances upon it as Watson's expressive writing would translate very easily into a wonderful film. Buy this book, you will love it.

Other stories for Young Adults by James Watson:

 Sign of the Swallow
The Bull Leapers
Legion of the White Tiger
The Freedom Tree *
Talking in Whispers *
Where Nobody Sees
No Surrender
Make Your Move (and Other Stories)
Ticket to Prague *
Justice of the Dagger *
Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa *

      * Now on Kindle

For further information please go to the author’s combined website and blog:


In memory of Muriel Barker (1905-97), the author’s best aunt

 You always said you would have liked
To be Dorset-born, and it was sad
That it was in Christchurch, Hampshire
You breathed your last. So I hope
You will forgive another commutation,
Of cowslips (my favourite) against primrose (yours):
For the thought was there and the word.

 At Knowlton where a ruined church
Nestles within the enigma of a pagan henge
I scattered your ashes on grassbanks
Which in the spring we saw palely-washed
With more cowslips than I’ve ever seen.

The wind-driven rain was a blessing
For the place was ours alone
And there was ample time for the telltale traces
Of your farewell to vanish into earth.

 It will be there in the spring
Succouring the roots of tomorrow,
Matching the green-fingered energy
Which was always yours in life;
Perpetual evidence that in the end
You were truly Dorset-born.


Tony Williams likes Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber, 2012).

In Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, flight has taken on various meanings, principally the aberrant flight of billions of monarch butterflies from their logged-out home in Mexico to a new unaccustomed winter roost in the Southern Appallachians of North America. Flight also takes in the intention of the human narrator to flee her dead-end farm home and her TV surfing husband and take up with a new lover.

But the first flight upends the second. Up in the mountain forest she is dazzled by her first sight of the vast blazing orange of the newly arrived monarchs. This forest is owned by her father-in-law who is about to sell up to a logging company. She has to prevent this.

Flight Behaviour, the eighth novel by Barbara Kingsolver, born 1955, has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. It tells of the interplay between the narrator’s personal needs, the story of her family – all in poverty – the scientists who arrive to count the butterflies, global warming, the local community, media interest and the loggers.

More biologist than feminist
So much so worthy. Barbara Kingsolver is nothing if not stern and passionate in fighting for her many causes. What makes this novel eminently readable is the unexpected humour, and even hilarity.

Her eyes and ears are ever keen to take in the idiom of modern American women. Kingsolver is more biologist than feminist, and the eye she turns on the curiously alien physical doings of males is largely benevolent. In an earlier novel she describes how one 61-year-old is about to leave her husband of two years because he entered matrimony for family silence, whereas what she wants is the conversation she has missed all her previous life.

 Sparkles with life
The author also muses over how men manage to support their pants under an enormous apple-shaped belly, and indeed how they can boastfully thrust such a mountain out into the world whereas a woman will devote her entire life to containing or at least concealing hers.

Flight Behaviour sparkles to life with the interchanges between the narrator, the 29-year-old unwittingly named Dellarobia and her friend Dovey, who is given to texting loony messages spotted on church slogan boards including ‘Moses was a basket case’. 

 Lost battle?
The ‘What the...’ factor present in The Lacuna (the reminder of the 1932 brutal suppression of the Bonus Marchers in Washington) may be absent here but replaced by the laugh-out-loud factor.  Hilarity, ‘you’ve got to laugh’, makes the dour message readable, but no more palatable. We readers may do what we can to minimise our own impact on the world’s diminishing resources but it is a lost battle. Our physical world will collapse and a lot sooner than we think. Pensioners may fret for the future of their grandchildren, but that is too optimistic: we should fret for the next few years the ravished world allows us.

QUOTE  OF THE MONTH: it’s that man again

Fifty-four historians wrote a joint letter to The Times (Tuesday 14 May, 2013) protesting about remarks made by Education Minister Michael Gove

in a recent speech on the teaching of history. Evidence for the case he was making proved to be unreliable, leaving him basing his arguments less on facts than personal prejudice.

‘The key skill that the study of history teaches us is the ability to evaluate evidence. Gove has demonstrated in his speech a remarkable capacity for manipulating and distorting it’.

Mr. Gove was deemed ‘Mr. Sloppy’.


Note from the editor
Ned Baslow’s letter to Agamenon, Menelaus and Odysseus has been regrettably held over till the next issue, but readers can sample his correspondence with Harold Godwinson, Giorgione, John Milton, Homer the Greek, William (Billy) Blake, King Nebuchadnezzar, Wolfy Mozart, Inspector Morse and Capability Brown in previous editions.

 To avoid disappointment readers are urged to book tickets for the various events that will take place at the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven International Festival of the Arts (2014).  We hear that not a ticket is to be had for the Tableau of Beauty Through the Ages, featuring guest appearances by Helen of Troy and Bo Derek.



 The Writer’s Notebook is taking a summer break: back in September!