Yes, I do love game shows, so very excited tonight to be watching the final of University Challenge – it’s a looong series, been following for months and finally tonight we have a winning team: Manchester. (Surprise!)
Bamber Gascoigne was the iconic quiz master who hosted the programme from 1962 till 1987. (In 1987 I was an undergraduate at Lancaster but only knew answers to questions about Wham! or Evelyn Waugh, at a push, with a fair wind.) Since then Jeremy Paxman, aka Paxo, the demon interviewer, has been at the helm. He is not as student-friendly as Bamber. He is very scary. But I am just getting used to him after nearly two decades.
I am happy if I get a few questions right over the course of thirty minutes. In fact it gets quite competitive between my husband and me. He likes to think he is intellectually superior but we all know who has the brain in this house. Moi. At a push. With a fair wind. On a good day.
University Challenge might be elitist and academic but there is nothing wrong with spending half an hour in the company of boffs. And the happiness when you get an answer right is worth the humiliation of getting most of them wrong.
And not to mention this show’s place in our popular culture. David Nicholls’ wonderful novel Starter for Ten was made into a sweet film and was a memorable scene on The Young Ones… And a chapter heading in The Generation Game.
Well done, Manchester.
So this time in July there is a clutch of days that are memorable for one reason or another. The Twelfth in Northern Ireland, Bastille Day on the 14th in France and, today in England, July 15th is St Swithin’s day.
Legend has it that if it rains today, it will rain day and night for the next forty days.
St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mare
I was mentally doing a sun dance last night as we have had quite enough rain this ‘summer’, thank you very much. And it has stayed dry. Hurrah!
And I couldn’t finish this post without a reference to one of my all time favourite novels, David Nicholl’s One Day. St Swithin’s Day plays a vital structural role in it. If you have read it, you will know why. If you haven’t read it, then do. It’s worth it. (And don’t forget the film.)
As for the rain, let’s see what happens over the next forty days and nights…
Nothing can beat a mother’s love – except perhaps the love of two very different mothers…
Freya is torn between her two mothers. Liv, her adoptive mother who nurtured and raised her, is earthy, no-nonsense. The total opposite to Melody: with her vibrant, explosive personality and extensive, brightly coloured wardrobe, Freya’s birth mother is still apt to find herself thrown out of Top Shop for bad behaviour.
Hard as it has been for Freya to try to reconcile her two families, it has been harder for her mothers. Proud of her mature and sensible adoptive daughter, Liv fears Melody’s restless influence. Meanwhile, forced to give up her baby when she was just a teenager herself, Melody now craves Freya’s love and acceptance – but only really knows how to have fun.
Then tragedy strikes, and the bonds of love that tie these three women together will be tested to the max. Can they finally let go of the past, and pull together in order to withstand the toughest challenge life could throw them?
Kate Long is one of my favourite contemporary novelists. She deals with the subject matter closest to my heart, the one I most relate to, the one I am drawn to write about myself: family. Her style draws you in, down-to-earth, funny, poignant, and her gift for characterisation makes her stories utterly believable.
In Before She Was Mine, Kate Long deals with adoption and the consequences of an adoptee getting in touch with their birth family. As a teenager, Freya tracked down her birth mother, Melody, through Friends Reunited and, despite Social Services advice, made contact. Liv, always loving and supportive, gives Freya the space to explore this relationship.
I felt great empathy for twenty-three year old Freya. Since dropping out of college, she has moved back in with Liv and works in a garden centre. She does a lot of the housekeeping at home. (Someone has to.) Liv and her fellow nature conservationist and partner, Geraint – who Freya claims smells like a badger – are consumed with newts, insects, and the poo of small mammals. Meanwhile Freya’s best friend, Nicky, is planning her wedding to a bloke Freya has a crush on. Her beloved uncle and confidante is hoping to volunteer abroad. And her on-off relationship with loser, Oggy, is on repeat mode. All-in-all Freya feels she is being left behind, no future or prospects.
When her two mothers are each dealt a tragic blow at the same time, Freya’s loyalties are divided and she finally has to grow up.
Kate Long is a Jacqueline Wilson for adults. She has a knack of drawing you completely into an everyday world where everyday people are pushed to their limits. She navigates through ‘issues’ with sensitivity and in an authentic way. You feel like you are right there, in the thick of it, gunning for the characters. For anyone who enjoys Laurie Graham, David Nicholls, Kate Atkinson or Marina Lewycka, I thoroughly recommend Before She was Mine – and if you have never read a Kate Long novel, you are in luck as there are many more to devour.
Read this article about Kate’s own experience of adoption. Some wonderful family photos!
Back along I put up a post on Songs about Books. With the final H.P. film opening tomorrow and my oldest right now in the charity shops of Teignmouth looking for an appropriate Potteresque oufit, I thought this would be a good time to blog about films adapted from books. Especially having watched the BBC adaptation of Sarah Water’s brilliant novel, The Night Watch on Tuesday evening. (Still on iplayer if you missed it.) I thought the one-off drama handled the backwards time frame brilliantly and, despite some changes to characters, it was faithful to the novel, capturing the immediacy and fragility of life and love in wartime.
One of my favourite recent books is One Day by David Nicholls, another novel with an unusual time frame as it follows its two main characters over two decades, with the action taking place on only one day, July 15th, throughout these years. A will-they-won’t-they story line but ultimately a beautiful, poignant love story with two memorable characters.
One Day is released at the end of August with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in the lead roles and, having read interviews about the upcoming film, it seems both of them know how serious it is to get these characters right as they will be accountable to over one million readers. A heavy burden to carry.
Probably my favourite ever screen adaptation is Brideshead Revisited, not the film as there’s far too much to cover in two hours, but the Granada production of 1981. I missed it the first time round but when it was repeated throughout the summer of 1986, I was hooked. It was the perfect television series for me as I was waiting for my A level results and then waiting to go up to university – not Oxford, but Lancaster. The music, by Geoffrey Burgon, captured the essence of the novel and has stayed with me through the years as has the magnificent cast which included Olivier and Gielgud as the two fathers.
As the countdown begins in earnest to the launch of my debut novel The Generation Game, I can’t help but daydream as to who would play my main character, Philippa… But for now, I will happily leave her to the reader’s imagination…