Campus/academic novels

I’ve always been drawn to campus novels, ever since reading ‘Brideshead Revisited’ during the summer of ’86 before I went to Lancaster University. I know Brideshead is not technically a campus or academic novel, but the most vivid part for many people, including myself, is the Oxford section where Charles meets Sebastian. So romantic and sweet and full of adolescent yearning.

In my first year as an English undergrad we studied post-war novels which included David Lodge’s How Far Can You Go and Kinsgley Amis’ Lucky Jim. These were perfect choices for this time of my life – funny, clever, satirical, experimental. And I found one of my favourite genres. I love that David Lodge was Professor of English at Birmingham at that time (aka Rummidge). It all felt connected.

Now, as DS1 prepares to go to SOAS, and as I await the publication of my third novel in a month’s time, I see more connections. Bright Stars could be called a campus novel in that it is partly set at Lancaster University in the 80s (yes, it is fiction, really). And Lancaster University is most definitely a campus, stuck on a hill off the M6, three miles from town. Thinking about Bright Stars and my experiences of academic life, I have been drawn back to the campus novel. Here’s my top ten.

1. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954). Still makes me laugh. A comic book is so rare and this one is full of charm and embarrassment and is quintessentially British.

2. Nice Work by David Lodge (1988).


I could have chosen any one of Lodge’s books but I went for Nice Work partly because of the TV adaptation and Warren Clarke’s portrayal of Vic Wilcox. A changing places of industry and university with a nod to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.

3. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson. This is the third of Atkinson’s novels and fantastic reading for anyone who has ever studied Creative Writing.

4. Starter for Ten by David Nicholls. Fabulous coming-of-age novel with more than a nod to television which is always fine by me. Funny and poignant.

5. Less than Angels by Barbara Pym. I could have chosen several of Miss Pym’s novels but went for this one, about anthropologists. Brilliant observations. Classic Pym.

6. Possession by AS Byatt. Not technically a campus novel but certainly set in an academic world. Multi-layered using different narrative devices.

7. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Just because.

8. The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury. A contemporary of David Lodge and also a fine example of the narrative technique of staying on the surface. Cutting satire of 70s academia.

9. Mary Swann by Carol Shields. Thought I should cross the pond, to Canada. I read this last year for the first time and was hooked. Such a clever use of subtle satire.

10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. And south to the USA. A stunning portrayal of a post-grad love triangle, including a vivid account of the effects of bi-polar disorder. Wonderful characterisation.

I could add many more. What would be in your list?

Mabel, Mr Clarke, a dead scorpion and some fleas.


July 17th 1900

My dearest Mother

It is only just 9 o’clock. I have had a long morning already as I was up at 6. Mr Clarke has gone away today and he had to start from here at 6.30 to pick up the coach at Madampe. He has been here nearly a week and it has been quite exciting having someone else in the house for so long. I rather dreaded his coming as I thought he would grumble at things and make everyone miserable but he has been awfully nice. Of course he found a lot of things were wrong and has made a good many alterations, but he says that most of the mistakes George has made have been through ignorance and also through not liking to alter things from the way Mr Harbor had been doing them. You see, at Veyangoda, George did not have very much to do with the actual desiccating (that means drying) as Mr Maxfield was mainly responsible for it, but here he is responsible for everything that goes on, as Mr Van Dort has had very little experience. Also Mr Clarke says that Mr Maxfield has been making a lot of mistakes so that a great deal that George has learnt from him has been wrong.

Mr Clarke was a manager of a mill for five years and is very well up in everything. He thinks that things ought to go very well here now that he has told George where he was wrong. He found things very much worse at Veyangoda. Mr Harbor seems to have been sleeping all day and Mr Maxfield had got miserable about things going wrong and took no more interest in his work. I am awfully glad Mr Clarke has been as George has been worrying so over his work lately. The stuff was packed up here looking as he thought quite all right and when it got to London it was rotten, or yellow, or damp, and as he couldn’t find out the reason why, it was beginning to get on his nerves and every letter of complaint that came made him worse.

But Mr Clarke has roused him up and given him so much more confidence in himself. From what Mr Clarke has said to me, I think they have a fairly good opinion of George in London and that is why they sent him here instead of Mr Harbor, as he says that being such an out of the way place and too far from Colombo to get much supervision, they must have someone here they can absolutely trust.

I was rather afraid he might think that being married might make George neglect his work but he told me that he thought it was a very good thing he was married as he could see that having no society of any kind, he would never get his thoughts off his work and would soon get into a morbid condition, while he told me that if I was any good I ought to be able to amuse him and keep him cheerful.

He was rather a beautiful person and said straight out what he thought but I liked him and he has been very nice to me and sent all his spare time with me. He wanted to get off by the P&O Peninsular on Thursday but he does not think he will be able to manage it as that will only give him one clear day in Colombo and he has a good deal to do besides going over once more to Veyangoda. So he will have to wait till the next P&O on the 2nd as he has a return ticket. They want him back in London as he is their buyer or seller or something, and an important person. But you must be quite tired of all this business, it is not very interesting.

I am afraid we shall have to give up all hope of going to Colombo for Race Week as it would be rather silly for George to leave before they have quite got used to all the alterations in the work and things are going quite satisfactorily. It is very difficult to drill new ideas into natives’ minds and is a matter of time. I should not like them in London to think that George did not take enough interest in his work and I’m sure they would think so if he were to leave so soon. Of course it so horribly disappointing and it would have done George good but I think when his mind is more at rest he will soon pick up again and I am so ridiculously well that I can’t pretend I want a change.

I have been studying the almanac and you ought to get this on the 6th or 7th so it will be just in time for your birthday. Many Happy Returns and much love from us and I wish I could give you a big kiss. I am going to send you the scorpion as a birthday present and I hope you will appreciate its beauties. But I am afraid it won’t get off this afternoon as George can’t find a proper thing to pack it in. It must be in spirits of wine or it would arrive in a high condition. He will have more time to see about it in a day or two. He says he has felt very mean all this week wearing his stud every night without having written to thank you both for it. But he really has not had a moment to spare with Mr Clarke always with him and so much to think about, so you must not expect your letter till you see it.

Our plants have not been doing very well and Mr Clarke says it is because they were standing on the cement floor of the veranda which stuck cold to them so now I have had them put on bricks. They don’t look elegant but I hope they will grow better. We have not got very many, mostly ferns, and some big round leafed things of the arum family only no flowers, and some begonias, foliage ones, which do very well in Ceylon. I want to get hold of some good palms but it is rather difficult here. The vegetation is not a bit what I expected it to be like. I thought it would be much more tropical and luxuriant instead of which it is very Englishy. Of course in the jungles and up country it is more like that but on the whole Ceylon is not a fertile island. The teak trees are rather fine just now as they are covered with blossom. They are rather like Spanish Chestnuts, and so is the blossom only it is a pale yellowy green, and as the leaves are very dark green, it shows up awfully well.

You know the Boy went down with us to Colombo and we expected him to come back on the Tuesday that we did. However, he never appeared so we wrote to ask why and it appears he had rheumatism which he said he caught in the boat and he did not return till last Saturday. I enclose a rather beautiful letter which George had from him explaining why he had not come. Luckily Solomon can cook very well otherwise we should have been in a hole with Mr Clarke here. He does not understand much about waiting but he got along very well and was very proud of himself.

Breakfast time, so I must shut up. The puppies are getting on all right but have many fleas so have to be kept at a distance.

Lots of love to all and many kisses for the 8th, from your loving Mab.

Review: The Sudden Departure of the Frasers


The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish

My name is Amber Fraser. I’ve just moved in at Number 40, Lime Park Road. You’ll come to think of me as a loving wife, a thoughtful neighbour and a trusted friend.
This is a lie.

When Christy and Joe Davenport are handed the keys to Number 40 on picture-perfect Lime Park Road, Christy knows it should be a dream come true. How strange though that the house was on the market for such a low price. That the previous owners, the Frasers, had renovated the entire property yet moved out within a year. That none of the neighbours will talk to Christy.

As her curiosity begins to give way to obsession, Christy finds herself drawn deeper into the mystery of the house’s previous occupants – and the dark and shocking secret that tore the street apart . . .

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers has been labeled as a modern day ‘Rear Window’ and this is true to a certain extent as the character of Christy becomes obsessed with her neighbours and watches them, spies on them, through her window.

The novel is told in a dual narrative, switching between Christie’s third person voice and Amber’s first person ‘confession’. One of the drawbacks of two narrators is that one can be more compelling than the other but I felt that both voices were equally engaging, handled with great skill by Candlish. Amber is the more exciting character, complex and deceptive, but Christy is also intriguing as she is drawn in such a way that we begin to doubt her reliability. This is a novel about the truths we tell ourselves to justify our own actions and the actions of those around us and both these women make the reader question what is fact and what is fiction.

It’s also a novel about our desires to ‘better’ ourselves, wanting more, and living beyond your means, borrowing too much. Does it bring happiness? Or pressure? What if it all comes crashing down? A fable for modern times if ever there was one.

I was utterly captivated by this novel and read it in two days, despite its 500 page length. It’s the tension that keeps the narrative drive going and the need to discover why the Frasers left. I did begin to pick the mystery apart but sometimes knowing what is going to happen, makes the reading all the more full of tension as you wait for the inevitable. And there was an extra revelation at the end…

The writing is clear and crisp and Candlish has a deftness of touch. I will definitely be reading her backlist but will have to make sure to free up blocks of time if her other novels are anything as gripping as this one.

My latest novel, Bright Stars, is published in October.


This review first appeared on Serendipity Reviews on Friday 14th August 2015

Memory Lane


We’re moving house in a few weeks if all goes to plan. So this has forced us to have a sort out. Yesterday, it was the garage – which has never seen a car in the ten years we have lived here. It has seen a few teenage parties, band practice, workout sessions, but mainly junk. But what is junk? After all, one person’s junk is another one’s treasure.

I admit to being a bit of a hoarder but I am determined to be more ruthless with what I save, especially when it comes to our children’s pictures and writing. The plan is to take a photo of most of their canon and to keep a few select pieces. As an early years teacher and as a writer I particularly love their collection of emerging writing and I know that they learned to write in a holistic way, without Letterland or other such contrived schemes. (Child-friendly phonics? I don’t think so. There’s no such thing. Even ‘phonic’ is spelt with a ‘p’ for goodness sake.)

It worked for them. One son is about to go to SOAS (University of London) to study Japanese and Linguistics. The other son is off to Brighton University to study History and Politics (this from a little boy who had to start school a month after he turned four, who could barely sit still in a chair, let alone hold a pencil). 16 year old daughter hopes to do Creative Writing A Level next term – if her GCSEs allow (deep breath for Thursday).

This was going to be a post about memories and how we hold onto them, rather than a rant about how children best learn to read and write (more ‘Not Now Bernards’ and less ‘Biff, Chip and Whatnots’, please). And I know the most important thing is for children to live in a print-rich environment, to see their parents reading and writing – and this isn’t always possible if parents have had a bad experience of education themselves. (Even shopping lists and magazines help.) And it is vital to show your children that what they produce is valuable. When they come home from pre-school with a soggy, sticky picture, put it up on the fridge or the wall. Date it. Catalogue it somehow, even if it’s by taking a photo.

My dear dad (God rest him) did this very thing. I brought home my very first painting from nursery school – a blobby mess of reds and yellows. He framed it for me and it hung on the wall of my bedroom until I left home. It ended up in the garage and I found it yesterday. The frame is broken. The colours have faded. But as soon as I saw it, I was a three year old again. I could smell the poster paint. I could remember what it felt like to wield a squishy paint brush. And I remember that my parents valued what I had produced. I only wish Dad could have been here to see me get my O level results, my A levels and degrees. And how I wish he could be here when my third novel is published in October. (And that goes for both my brothers’ achievements and all 12 grandchildren. And the great grandchild that is on ‘its’ way.)

I am taking my picture to be framed and I don’t care what the framer says when they see my work of art. It was good enough for Dad to hang on the wall and that’s what matters.

Bright Stars, published by Legend Press October 1st 2015
Bright Stars, published by Legend Press October 1st 2015

The one where George commits murder

Croquet, not tennis
Croquet, not tennis

July 10th 1900

Dearest Tommie

We’ve got three puppies! Such duckies, so fat, their bodies all much too heavy for their little legs at present and they can only sprawl. They were born last Saturday week while we were in Colombo, and the way in which Gretchen was prancing in excitement and importance when we arrived on Tuesday was too funny. She led me to the box where they were with an air as much as to say, ‘you can’t beat that!’. She had six but one died soon after it was born and George drowned two as five would have been too many for her to bring up. We have kept two black ones like her, and one brown, we hope they will take mostly after their mother, and not after their Pariah father. I have never seen much of tiny pups before and I am always watching these, they are so sweet crawling about their box. Their eyes are not opened yet but I suppose they ought to be today or tomorrow.

Thank you very much for sending the puzzle. I haven’t had time to do it much yet as I have been fairly busy. I have just begun the white silk blouse. I think I shall make it with a big collar arrangement, but have not quite decided.

Mr Clarke did not come after all as he could not get away but he is coming tomorrow. Mr Marshall just came down for the night with the money. We could not bring it as the banks were closed on Monday. He is such a jolly fellow, it is nice to have him in the house. I shall be glad when Mr Clarke has been and gone, as it is hanging over George and he is still rather seedy so things worry him more*. He has had two more attacks since we came back, one on Tuesday night and Wednesday, which I think was the result of the jolting in the coach which is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. He was very seedy on Wednesday and I kept him in bed till tea time and only gave him spoon food, then on Friday he seemed quite all right so began taking the Kepler but I suppose his tummy was still weak and it proved too much for it. He was very bad in the night and just lay on the sofa all the next day, quite worn out. However, he is much better now and I am dieting him and giving him little odd things so he will soon get his strength up again. I hope he will be able to take the Kepler presently if he begins very gradually, but it is beastly and I am quite sure would turn me up.

I am glad you beat Bessie but very sorry you and she lost the doubles. I am not keen on playing with Bessie myself; I never feel she is to be depended on. You know we played with each other too much, it has put us off playing with other girls. I like your frocks enormously, the holland is sweet, so cool looking. I am going to wear my black skirt and the lace bodice every night now, as the skirt is too shabby to hoard up any longer and I might just as well wear it as anything else and it is nice and cool. Mosquitos don’t worry me much now so I shan’t mind not having my arms quite covered up. I could not have borne it when I first moved out here. I really must be noticeably fatter as a man whom George introduced to me in Colombo did not recognise me the other day at the G.O.H. It was when I was having dinner by myself and I kept wondering why this creature stared at me, and the next night he saw George and I together and told him afterwards that he did not know it was me. He supposed it was because I was fatter. He was only introduced to me in the lift so he could not have had a very good view of me and I did not remember him in the least. Certainly my things have seemed tighter but I thought I had swelled with the heat and they had shrunk with the washing.

We have had such jolly breezes lately, and as the wind comes straight from the sea only 3 miles away, it is nice and fresh and has made my cheeks quite decently rosy again. They had got a little tallowy with the heat.

Fancy your having another pupil! I am very glad if it does not mean much more work, that is the only drawback. I hope you will have had a nice time at Lewes. I wonder if you will see the old lady with the nose again. I had not realised that the fete was so close. It seems only the other day that you were shivering with cold. I wish we had seasons here. It would be much nicer than everlasting summer. How I do hope you have won something in the tournament. It will be sickening if you don’t.

George, I think, is wrestling with a letter to the kids. It was quite his own idea and I have encouraged it, but I thought he seemed a trifle worried when the time came to write it. I must go down and see how he is getting on, so good bye.

Love and kisses to everybody

from Mab

*But still able to murder puppies

The Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo


The Grand Oriental Hotel
July 2nd 1900

Dearest Tommie

Oh, what a day we’re ‘aving and oh so cheap, or rather it is dear at the price. You will see we are down here in the centre of civilisation again, although we did not in the least intend to come. Money was wanted and Mr Vandort was coming down for it, but at the last minute they wired from the office to say they would prefer George to come as they wanted to see him about something. So off we started gaily on Friday morning at 6.30 in the launch. We came along very well till we got about 7 miles from Negombo, then we found the water very low and we kept sticking and sticking. We first got stuck in a lagoon and a lot of boatmen shoved and hauled us off, then a little further on we got aground again and finally when we got into the canal again, we found it quite hopeless as the water was dreadfully low and the boat stuck fast. Luckily we were near a little village and the men there said the water would rise in about 2 hours but we could not possibly stick there and wait on the chance of getting off, as it was 11 o’clock and frightfully hot.

So out we got, bag and baggage, and we managed to get a little bullock cart, on the floor of which I sat, enthroned and surrounded by our luggage, with my feet hanging out the end. There was no room for George so he had to walk nearly 3 miles to another village where we got a bigger cart and we finally go to Negombo at 1 o’clock. We had left the boat in the charge of Jeremiah and the boy who had come up to see his family. George sent someone down to help bring up the boat when the water rose. It arrived about 5 o’clock in a most grievous plight as it had sprung a leak and was 3 inches deep in water. The Boy’s expression was killing; it was so lachrymose. I don’t think he will ever want to come in the boat again. Of course we had to stay the night at Negombo and come on in the coach on Saturday morning. The launch will have to come up here and be thoroughly repaired. It has always let in water a little and George thinks it had been strained somewhere, then getting stuck so badly has finished it off.

I thought when we really got here safe and sound that our troubles were over, but alas, no. We got here about 10.30 and George went off to the office to see Mr Horner. He also found that the man from london, Mr Clarke, has arrived and will very likely come back with us tomorrow. After tiffin we went to Mount Lavinia to get a sea blow but it was rather hot. We had tea there and got back about 7. I think the train journey is the nicest part as it runs along quite close to the sea and is deliciously breezy. It is almost too close to the sea for safety as in some places it comes within an inch or two of the line and George thinks they will have to move it farther back soon.

Well we had dinner and went peaceably to bed, but at 4 o’clock George woke up and was awfully bad. It began with diarrhoea and then sickness thrown in, first one and then the other. At 7 o’clock he was horribly bad. He shook as if he had the ague and was a sort of grey colour. I was frightened and thought he was in for fever so I sent off for the doctor. There is one who lives in the hotel but he is away just now so I sent for Dr Thomas, the man George went to about his boils. It was rather funny. George saw him and brought him to see me in the hotel on Saturday. He is a very nice man. He lives some way off and he sent back an answer to say he could not come for an hour or two as he was obliged to go a long way in the opposite direction but he told me to give George a dose of Chlorodyne. I did not get his answer till nearly 10 so if George had not got better before then, I should have been in a fright. However about 8 the pain began to get better and he left off being sick. Poor boy, he did have the most awful pain, it simply doubled him up. I began to have awful visions of dysentery and cholera. I got him some arrowroot and he went to sleep for a little while, quite worn out. When the doctor came, he said it was very likely caused by the change of air and sleeping in the wind with his bed close to the window.

Horekelly air is very dry, and here it is damp, and although it was perfectly still and very close when we went to bed, about 2 o’clock a little breeze springs up and being fast asleep, it gave him a chill. Also he had one or two iced drinks, which of course he is not used to, and they may have upset his tummy. His temperature was just over 100 so he had to keep in bed all day and exist on slops. They do all those sorts of things very nicely here. They sent up delicious chicken broth and corn flour and arrowroot. He felt very done up all day and did not want to get up a bit till the evening when he began to feel better and got up to sit in a long chair to have his dinner. I stayed up with him all day and in the afternoon went dead asleep, you see, I had been on the go since 4 o’clock.

Mr Marshall came to see me after tea and we had a nice little chat. Then I read to George till dinner time and again till he went to bed. What I did not like much was having my meals in solitary state in the dining room. I felt quite conspicuous as there are very few people in the hotel just now and you get so much attention it is quite embarrassing. It is very difficult for me to remember that I am a married woman and can do things and be more important than I was before. I don’t feel any different.

George is much better this morning. He slept like a top and has had a very good breakfast and has now gone to the office. He is going to see the doctor presently; he is coming here at 12 o’clock. It was so funny. The doctor was chaffing him on Sat morning saying how well he looked and that he supposed it was because he had me to look after him. He said that sleeping in a draught was not likely to affect me as I have not been out long enough. It is not until you have been out some time that you are likely to get chills.

The doctor came just now and I wanted to talk to him before he saw George. I told him about his getting thin and losing so much weight and he has recommended cod liver oil and malt so I got a big bottle of Kepler and am going to dose him. The doctor says he has to give it to a lot of people to fatten them up as one takes so little of that sort of thing out here. The doctor says one must not think too much about getting thin as the climate always takes you one way or the other, there is no happy medium, but at the same time he thinks George’s weight is a little too small for his size. I also talked to him about my constipation and he said it’s caused by taking so little exercise and is difficult to avoid. But he says Cascara can’t hurt me and is very good to take and if I find it does not do me much good, he will send me some dinner pills.


I have quite forgotten about the parcel. It arrived all right on Wednesday and I am most delighted with the contents and thank you and Mother ever so much for them. The dressing gown stuff is sweet and I shall make a blouse of it as well. The silk is just the very thing I wanted as I can make an evening blouse to wear with my alpaca skirt. I have not had one to wear with it before.

The book I am revelling in. It is awfully nice. What a pity you did not read it before you sent it. I am glad to have the clubs; they will be such good exercise. Altogether that parcel was most satisfactory.

We are off tomorrow by the coach at 7 o’clock and shan’t get home till past 5, a most hateful journey. I hope the launch will soon be mended. Mr Clarke is coming down on Wednesday. I am glad he is not coming with us as his room is not ready and it would have been tiresome doing it when he had come.

We are going out for a little walk after tea so adieu.

Lots of love to all
from Mab

Such Stuff as Dreams are made on


I’ve been thinking about dreams lately. I can usually piece together why I dream what I dream but sometimes they come right out of the blue. Last week I dreamt I was a surrogate mother for my niece (I have ten nieces so I won’t say which one). I am 47 and had a hysterectomy a few years ago, so I was a strange choice. But it felt so real. I wanted to keep the baby and breastfeed it (‘it’ was genderless) but it was taken away in a cruel way.

Why did I dream this? Because my children are growing up? Two have been travelling and are off to university in September. The youngest is off to sixth form college. Times are changing in our household and my place is less certain in the world as I know it. I suppose the dream was about letting go.

When the children were small – we had three children under the age of 4 at one point – I used to have vivid dreams about leaving one of them at home. Or one of them falling off a high building. I know this was a mother’s insecurities about taking good care of her children. But they were utterly terrifying.

I still dream sometimes that I am late for school – not as a pupil but as a teacher. There’s a class of 30 plus five year olds waiting for me, rioting on the carpet, and a fuming head teacher. Oh the shame.

I used to have the wobbly teeth dream a lot. I thought this was because of the heavy orthodontic treatment I had gone through but have since learnt that this is a common dream for people going through a big life event.

I try to avoid conflict in my daily life but I have huge rows in my dreams and have to work hard not to carry on my frustrations with the person in question when I wake up. But worse than these rows are the dreams of execution – my execution. I have a recurring dream where I have killed someone by mistake. I am on the verge of being hung but, thankfully, it never actually happens. I suppose this would be called a nightmare and it’s a relief to wake up after one of those.

On the other end of the spectrum, I very occasionally dream of my dad and it’s always hard waking up and realising it was all a dream. But lovely while it lasts.

Dreams are a difficult subject for writers to deal with as they can be cliched or a weak narrative device. Who can ever get over Pamela Ewing’s dream where she wakes up to find Bobby in the shower. This really made it tough for viewers to suspend their disbelief and it was downhill all the way for ‘Dallas’ after that. So you won’t find a dream in my novels and I will not be that person who bores you with their nightly wonders. But do let me know if you have any good ones.


Happy Birthday, Pippi!


Listening to Woman’s Hour yesterday morning, there was a discussion about Pippi Longstocking and what a powerful role model she is for girls. She is strong, eccentric and kind-hearted and doesn’t care about how she looks. (In fact she loves her freckles so much she wants more.)

Astrid Lindgren created Pippi 70 years ago and she has entertained generations of children and adults around the world. I sadly never knew about Pippi when I was a girl. It wasn’t until having my own children that I was introduced to her. And I fell in love. We all did. We had a cassette player in our Volvo (nice Swedish connection there) and our eldest was given a Pippi Longstocking tape, narrated by the amazing Sandi Toksvig. We played that tape over and over until it wore out. It was one of those rare things that you’d be genuinely engrossed in listening to – unlike most of the awfulness we had to put up with in that car.

If you have young children, I can’t recommend Pippi Longstocking enough. Buy the books and the CDs and set your kids free.

And while you’re at it, check out Astrid Lindgren herself. She was so much more than the creator of this iconic character.

Ten Observations on the Election Results from a Disillusioned Mother


I must confess to being very down over the election results. I was hoping that people would use compassion when casting their votes. But no. So I thought I had better write some of my thoughts down to try and find a way out of the gloom.

1. Time to seriously consider PR.
36.9% voted Tory. 63.1% didn’t. This is the system we have in this country but that doesn’t mean it is right. If there was PR we would now have 25 greens, 50 ish LDs, a few less Labour and a lot fewer Cons. But we’d also have 82 UKIP MPs.

2. Embarrassment
4 out of 10 voters were embarrassed to admit they voted Tory hence the skewed polls (according to a Yougov poll). The question of the polls is still being debated. There is no doubt more to it than just this.

3. Memories of 1992
Remember what happened in John Major’s second term. He had a majority of 21.

‘Mr Major’s majority of 21 melted away completely after a series of by-elections, scandals and defections; Mr Cameron’s slimmer margin of victory, just 12, gives him even less room for manoeuvre, although the opposition he faces is more fractured.’ George Parker, political editor of FT, May 8th 2015

4. Isolation
The in-out referendum will cause a split in the Conservative party. If we leave Europe, the SNP will push for another referendum. Then Britain will be smaller and more isolated.

5. Lies
The deficit argument was based on a pack of lies. The deficit is bigger now than in 2010. Why wasn’t this point hammered home by Labour?

There has been no increase in jobs – unless you count a zero hour contract as a job.

6. Newspapers

Is it just a coincidence that the men who own the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times and the Sun are all non-Doms who don’t pay tax in the UK?

7. Young people

We have two sons going to university in September. By the time they graduate, they will have a minimum of £42K debt. Each.

8. Leadership

We’ve got to choose the right Labour leader – someone not tarnished by the Iraq war, someone who’s had real life experience. And yes, because we live in shallow times, someone with ‘charisma’. Charisma is obviously more important than conviction or compassion.

9. Always cast your vote.

10.’If you don’t do politics, there’s not much you do do.’

Talk to your children about politics. This generation have got it tough so they need to engage with the political process.

Actually, talk to anyone who will listen. Politics is not a rude word. Everything is politics.

Mabel and the Butterflies


June 18th 1900

My dearest Mother

I said I would write to you this week, but I don’t think I have much in the way of news to tell you. Life is very uneventful in this benighted region. We seem quite out of the world.

We were so disappointed this week although it was impossible to help it. I had a letter a few days ago from Mr. Haines, the nice Irishman on board the ‘Rome’ who gave me the feathers. He wrote to say he was just leaving Australia and would arrive at Colombo on the 21st, leaving again for Japan on the 24th. He thought of coming to see us in the time if it was convenient, as I had asked him to come. Of course we should have been delighted to have him, but it really was not worth it. He would have to spend two whole days in travelling in that beastly coach, and would have just the day with us. He will spend about a day in Colombo, later on, when he is going to India so we are going to try to go to Colombo then and see him there. He was so nice. I should like to see him again. I think it was so jolly of him to want to come to see me, because he could very well have not said anything about his being in Colombo.

George and I are very busy collecting butterflies but it is difficult to get perfect specimens, so many have their wings a little torn. Some of them are very big. George caught one yesterday which is just six inches across. It is black and blue. He has had a box made for them in the mill, with a glass lid, like the ones Eric has. The thing will be how to get them to England. We shall have to get someone to bring them as it would not do to risk them by post. Perhaps by the time Mr Haines comes back we shall have collected enough. Isn’t it funny, he is coming here on the ‘Himalaya’, the boat Capt. Leigh is commanding now.

Don’t imagine we are going to be chewed up by crocodiles. The launch is much too big and they are much too frightened of it. Besides, they stay in backwaters and weedy places where we can’t go. We have never seen one and I don’t think we are likely to.

I am so excited at the thought of my parcel. I do hope it will come this week. Thank you ever so much for the stuff. It sounds lovely and I am longing to see it but why did you spend the money.

George and I do so wish we could have been at home for the festivities over the Relief of Mafeking. Aren’t those jolly pictures of B.P*. and his family in the Illustrated. I must tell Kate that I think he is infinitely preferable to her beloved ‘Horatio Herbert’**, not so much of the Sphinx about him.

My tummy has been rather tiresome lately, not my usual complaint but the other way round. I suppose it is taking so little exercise. I have taken pills galore but I don’t think that pays so now I have sent for some Cascara Saglada and shall try that. It might come tonight. You can get pretty well every possible drug in Colombo. Our bathroom is in rather a tiresome place and I sometimes have to wait about if Solomon is going up and down the stairs doing our bedroom but I am getting more brazen than I used to be. However I am perfectly well otherwise so I suppose one must expect something in this vale of tears.

Our little cat is flourishing and most cheeky. She gets into the office and goes to sleep in the middle of their papers on the writing table or else curls herself up in the waste paper basket. The dog has a box with some straw in it which she has promptly taken possession of. Gretchen puts on a most resigned expression but she really rather likes it and licks the cat’s face very affectionately. It is so sweet to see them snuggled up together.

I must leave off now as the whistle has gone which means George will be coming in. Tell Amy to ‘luck up’ and win the mixed doubles. She might do with Frank Newcombe and he will be on his best behaviour with her. Is his engagement given out yet?

Love and kisses to everybody

From your very loving daughter Mabel Gillespy