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a writer's life Book Launch Fiction Guernsey Literature Novels Reviews Richard Fleming

Barking Mad! By Jane Mosse

418CImAzKeL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Barking Mad! by Jane Mosse published by Blue Ormer

What with one thing and another, I have found it hard to read lately. It’s as if a smoke alarm keeps going off in the house. Yesterday, having a hateful ear infection, I opted for a sofa day. When I wasn’t dripping antibiotics into my ear and moaning peevishly, I was completely taken by the highly-diverting Barking Mad! by my Guernsey based pal Jane Mosse. Her last project mentioned on this blog was Guernsey Legends — but this is a very different book, being a fictionalised account of several years of pet sitting with her husband Richard Fleming.  All they have to do is live in stranger’s houses, and befriend their pets. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Luckily for the reader, things are rarely straightforward.

Travel, plus animals, plus nosing about in other people’s houses? It’s a perfect formula for an enjoyably escapist read. You can imagine yourself anywhere from arriving in Alderney in a tiny aircraft on a rabbit sitting mission, to the ballroom of a grand estate in Northumbria with a Shetland pony that lets itself into the house from time to time, freezing in Prague as the boiler goes kaput before Christmas, or in a lock keeper’s cottage deep in a northern industrial wasteland.  There is a panoply of loveable pooches and pampered cats — not to mention the cast of eccentrics who hand them into our heroes’ care. Our pet-sitting wanderers also encounter all manner of other critters on their travels, from water snakes to deer, mosquitoes to rabbits, piglets to a lugubrious bathtub carp. Many of these creatures harbour ideas of their own so they certainly give their temporary minders plenty deal with.  

Part of the fun of course, is getting an real insight into their host’s lives. So if your sanity could benefit from imagining yourself basking in Tuscan sunlight under lemon trees as cats haunt the shadows, or gazing out on snowy, deer-filled parkland just before Christmas… Then you’d be mad not to simply get yourself a copy of  Barking Mad!  

Categories
Guernsey Guernsey Literature Painters, Poetry

Keeping Guernsey Legends vibrantly alive

Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse & Frances Lemmon, Blue Ormer Publishing

jane-mosse-and-frances-lemmon
Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 14.53.39The stories in the gorgeously-produced Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon are not remote reconstructions from some antique past. One story, about an enormous spectre of a nanny goat, played a real part in my own island childhood. Le Coin de la Biche was a stone’s throw away from my family home on La Rue des Grons. My grandfather always accelerated past this corner at night. Although we used to laugh nervously about La Biche as we sped past, by night a fiery-eyed giant nanny goat leaping out of the hedges certainly seemed possible.

The book’s introduction also mentions Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon’s debt to the peerless Marie De Garis, the author of Folklore of Guernsey (1975).  But the text of Guernsey Legends, contains stories collected by Sir Edgar McCullough and Edith Carey, which were first published in 1903. These stories are then responded to in poetry, by Jane Mosse, and visually, by Frances Lemmon.

It is a huge relief to see we are in such safe hands. Writer Jane Mosse is well known on Guernsey not just as a fine poet, but for championing Guernsey literature, and the memory of G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the best book written about the island. In this collection Jane Mosse’s poems are typically playful, engaging and full of a folkloric darkness. The effect is often that we are reading rediscovered poems, and Jane Mosse’s conscious use of  anachronisms is particularly effective and sympathetic in rooting themselves into the soil of the original stories.

The Cuckoo is one of these examples, where the poem is almost like reading an old Guernsey spell.

The Cuckoo

When you hear the cuckoo call
Sew you then your wedding shawl.

Count the months before you wed
Head thee to thy marriage bed.

Wedding ring already worn?
Count the years to your first-born.

When you’re agèd list her cry,
Count the years before you die.

This poem about finding a witch caught up in thorns works its magic in the same way.

The Witch in the Hedge

Thorns
tore
at the silken skirt.
Fine tatters
fluttered in the furze,
as the juice of the sloes
leached into her bodice
staining the fragile lace of her shawl.

When old Nicolette
espied the gentlewoman
ensnared by blackthorn,
bleeding midst the brambles
her gentle hands reached
to pluck
barbed spines
from grazed flesh.

Pride wounded,
raven scoop askew,
the hag
spat
out her warning.

‘Hold though thy tongue
speak to no one
lest a single word
of this tale be heard.’

Frances Lemmon is the pre-eminent painter on Guernsey, who unfailingly manages to get to the symbolic heart of the island, with striking compositions that somehow mythologise features of the island. Her style is deceptively simple, employing planes of vibrant colour, and simplified depictions of people and animals. The book is worth its price alone for having collected Lemmon’s stunning and mysterious pictures.

Guernsey Legends is divided into five sections: animals, fairies, magic, rocks and stones, and festivals, and the subject matter is incredibly rich. We learn about an invasion of murderous fairies from the west, drunken (and untrustworthy) Jerseymen who tried to steal Guernsey by hitching a rope to it to, to shape-changing witches and shape-changing rocks and all manner of other matters.

This is a beautiful book. The original stories wonderfully enhanced by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon who have gone about teasing out new approaches to the legends with consummate skill. In their hands Guernsey Legends are vibrantly alive, and bring authentic Guernsey folklore to a new generation of readers. This is another timely and excellent publication from Blue Ormer.

Categories
A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Literature

Genius Friend

GeniusFriendCover1

Edward Chaney’s long-awaited book on G.B. Edwards, Genius Friend is being published and launched at the Guernsey Literary Festival today. And I’m very sad that I’m not there to see it.

G.B. Edwards wrote The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which is by a country mile the best book written about Guernsey.  It is essentially Ebenezer’s long life story, and is the most authentic representation of life on the island from the late nineteenth century till the 1960s. It is a tour de force of storytelling.

There is a remarkable connection between author and subject here. G.B. Edwards was a friend of the author when Chaney was a young art student, and Edward was struggling to finish the novel. With Chaney’s encouragement the old writer completed the task, and left the manuscript to Chaney who, after a struggle, was able to find a publisher for it in 1981.

I was lucky enough to meet Edward Chaney through mutual friends Jane Mosse (now Fleming) and Richard Fleming in 2010. Jane has helped Chaney with research for the book. And Edward Chaney was also kind enough to write the introduction for A Guernsey Double, the book of poems by Richard Fleming and myself.

Click through here to read what Richard has written about it the publication of Genius Friend on his blog here.

I can’t wait to read Edward’s book, whose lovely title was taken from this sad portrayal of G.B. Edward’s life in The Spectator in 1982. But more I personally love this book because it ends in the sixties, when I lived as a little child on the island, and reminds me of my Grandfather and other family members. It is a kind of pre-history to a part of my own life. Most of all I empathise with the pervading feeling of sadness present in the book, written by a man in self-imposed exile from the island he loves.

Categories
Celebrity Marketing

The Body Shop and Alison Jackson’s royal lookalikes

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The Body Shop Mother’s day advert by Alison Jackson

Alison Jackson is an artist and filmmaker who began using lookalikes to ‘depict our suspicions’ of the private lives of people in the public eye. Jane Mosse (pictured above holding a corgi) is Britain’s leading Camilla lookalike and is a close friend. I know she regularly finds herself swept up into various Alison Jackson projects such as those for Kleenex, Peter Alexander and Notonthehighstreet and the extremely successful TV commercial for T-Mobile 2011. Jane also features in Jackson’s latest foray into TV advertising for The Body Shop which urges us to treat your mother as if she were a queen – and amusingly depicts Charles and Camilla with corgis, apparently bringing The Queen breakfast in bed.

The Royal family are a frequent subject for Jackson, while they are incredibly well known, the vast majority of us naturally will never have an idea what these people are like in private. This is a gulf that our imaginations are happy to cross however. Jane says of those times when she makes a public appearance, “the interesting thing is that even when the public know you’re not the real deal they still act as though you were… When Gabi and Simon (lookalikes for Kate and Wills) went to Australia, they were mobbed in a shopping mall.”

Simon and Gabi in hiding
Lookalikes Simon and Gabi hiding in Australia

As viewers of Jackson’s work we know we are not watching the real Royal family, but there is something about using these doppelgängers makes us feel we are glimpsing a parallel reality. People like Jane are not not actors depicting a character, they are people who seem a hair away from the part. For me this is where much of the fascination Jackson exploits arises.

In Jackson’s interesting Ted talk from 2005 she talks about how ‘photography removes us from the real subject matter’ but this means that depictions of Princess Diana, have their own independent reality.

As a marketeer, I can say the main challenge with celebrity endorsement is that it means you are overlapping two brands: the personal brand of the celebrity, with the product you are trying to promote. This is why a celebrity endorsement works better when there is a connection, however tenuous –so former England footballer Gary Lineker can naturally endorse Walkers snack foods because Walkers come from Leicester and so does Gary.

Naturally, seen as a brand, the Royal Family is enormous. Its gravitational pull is far greater than The Body Shop and lesser brands love to associate themselves with royalty. Using lookalikes, however, allows Body Shop to cheekily associate itself with the Royal Family, and profit from the crumbs that spill from that vast brand’s table. And there is no hint of toadyism in Jackson’s work, it is postmodern, warm and irreverent. A lovely balancing act.

Watch The Body Shop ad below.

Guernsey Literary Festival

The first Guernsey Literary Festival seemed to me to be a success. I think the benefits of this festival will be immense in the long term. If Guernsey is an island that, with its many other blessings, is seen as a place where writing and culture happen, this can only enrich the lives of its people and greatly encourage a new generation of visitors.

For my part seeing the faces of the children from Vauvert and Le Murier schools light up with delight when I began telling them an adventure set where they live, made the whole trip worthwhile. I donated books to these schools and to St Martin’s primary too.

It was excellent to secure the backing of Barclays Wealth. It was a win-win too. Good for the sponsors because from a PR perspective, they have an image problem they need to fix. Projects of this sort that reach benignly into the island should be exactly what they should be looking for.

For my own part any time when Richard and I manage a BBC radio appearance and three poetry readings to promote the A Guernsey Double is a success in itself. I was also able to launch Defenders of Guernsey in two sessions with schoolchildren, attend a poetry cafe reading with some fine poets, and meet people like Annie Barrows, Edward Chaney, Sebastian Peake, Caroline Carver and Tim Binding, do some protracted networking on the island, and know that the best part of 160 Skelton Yawngrave stories are now in the island’s schools.

Thanks to the Guernsey Literary Festival I returned home full of a revived interest in writing and performing, in Mervyn Peake, in the poetry of Caroline Carver, the singing of Olivia Chaney and with new friends made and old friendships strengthened.

Well done Guernsey. And well done folks like Catriona Stares, Richard Fleming, Jane Mosse and the many others who dedicated enormous time and effort to the whole thing.

Back from the book Launch

Back from Guernsey now after a very successful book launch. Perhaps most enjoyably we managed to get on BBC Guernsey with Jenny Kendall-Tobias twice. She’s an excellent radio host and a lovely woman, and we did an entire two hour show with her. What we couldn’t have predicted was that she loved our work.

The book launch itself very successful too, and we were introduced by Jane Mosse who did a perfect job, and the event was hosted in The Greenhouse in St Peter Port – and we signed dozens of books right away. There is a buzz about seeing your book in a shop window, in this case The Guernsey Press shop, where we did a signing the next day.

Online, a the first edition of A Guernsey Double is currently available from anthologyofguernsey.com — and before too long it will be on Amazon too.

Below Richard and JKT in our first BBC interview, me in reception, a book display.


Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse

Have just seen Richard and Jane for the second time in a short visit to the island (which co-incided with my birthday). We met for coffee in the afternoon as we seem to drink lots of wine when we meet up. In fact one of our first meetings, which with three poets (and my mother) in the room, was so liquid that Richard broke a couple of ribs lurching about in his bedroom afterwards.

Both Richard and Jane fit into the Discovered Islands section of the Anthology of Guernsey, and both have agreed to let me use some of their poetry on the site. Jane’s career as a poet is burgeoning lately with an excellent international competition result, while Richard and I have been reading each other’s work off and on for years.

They are both very supportive of the project. Jane is sending me some work soon, but in the meantime here is a lovely poem of Richard’s.

FUNERAL AT TORTEVAL

The heart beats now a mourning drum
behind the coffin held aloft.
Head bowed, you step, back ramrod-straight,
blue light, through stained-glass, falling soft,
from the black car beyond the gate
into the congregation’s hum.

Grief carves a beauty in your face
or highlights what was there before,
unrecognised: you seem to shine,
to have become not less but more,
while others’ faces, at this shrine
to gracefulness, lack any grace.

The hedgerow birds, today, seem dumb
as one by one the black cars leave:
you by your crumpled father’s side,
comforting him, holding his sleeve,
so full of elegance, dry-eyed,
with redefined years still to come.

Copyright Richard Fleming 2008

Meeting Guernsey Arts Commission

Went to Guernsey in June and had a meeting with the Guernsey Arts Commission, about creating an Anthology of Guernsey writing. Liked the Chairman Tony Gallienne right off the bat. The meeting was inconclusive, but they were encouraging.

I spent a couple of hours in the Priaulx Library where I met Amanda Bennett, the Chief Librarian, who took time to show me an extensive collection of books, all of which have some tenuous connection to Guernsey.

She told me a few things right away I didn’t know, such as PG Wodehouse went to school here, and that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the composer had performed on the island. And that Edmund Keane the nineteenth century Shakespearean was pelted with vegetables in St Peter Port. Spent a happy couple of hours with my nose in dusty tomes. A venerable place, busy with people tracking down old stories from the Guernsey Press, and tracing their ancestors.

Then to the Guernsey Museum, which is a matter of a few yards away. Here I met Guernsey’s switched on Museums Director Jason Monaghan. Interesting chat with him. He also gave me a signed copy of a self-published book written under his nom de plume Jason Foss called Islands that never were. After a brief look at The Three Garnsey Women Martyred by the Papists {Anno 1556}. Jason has let me know subsequently of a Dr Who novelisation set in Guernsey too.There is rich ground to be covered.

Already receiving a good deal of help and advice from the excellent Catriona Stares of the Commission, and Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse, notable poets resident on the island.

Creating an anthology for Guernsey

So to catch up on recent activity. I returned from a short trip to my former home of Guernsey recently where I presented to the Arts Commission, who were interested in the project.

So I am shortly about to kick the project off, and have bought AnthologyofGuernsey.com for a song.

While I was over, I spent a couple of hours in the Priaulx Library where I met Amanda Bennett, the Chief Librarian, who took time to show me an extensive collection of books, all of which have some tenuous connection to Guernsey.

She told me a few things right away I didn’t know, such as PG Wodehouse went to school here, and that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the composer had performed on the island. And that Edmund Keane the nineteenth century Shakespearean was pelted with vegetables in St Peter Port. Spent a happy couple of hours with my nose in dusty tomes. A venerable place, busy with people tracking down old stories from the Guernsey Press, and tracing their ancestors.

Then to the Guernsey Museum, which is a matter of a few yards away. Here I met Guernsey’s switched on Museums Director Jason Monaghan. Interesting chat with him. He also gave me a signed copy of a self-published book written under his nom de plume Jason Foss called Islands that never were. After a brief look at The Three Garnsey Women Martyred by the Papists {Anno 1556}. Jason has let me know subsequently of a Dr Who novelisation set in Guernsey too.

There is rich ground to be covered. Already receiving a good deal of help and advice from the excellent Catriona Stares of the Commission, and Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse, notable poets resident on the island.