26 Memory Maps

I’ve contributed to the 26 Memory Maps project, in which a set of writers were asked to create a map, then an accompanying 150-word text and explanation. Here’s my map of the landscape outside my English grandparents’ house in North Yorkshire, and a link to the piece I wrote.



PortraitMy Dad died recently. This is the tribute my brother Mark and sister Julie and I read at his funeral near Kendal last Monday. It was a beautiful day, and the clouds put on a special display for him in the morning and evening:

Dad was, among many other things, a photographer. The photos on the front and back of the ‘batting order’ are his, taken in the French Alps, the Lincolnshire Wolds and from Scout Scar, only a few miles from here. As children, and as grandchildren, we spent hours being posed in front of mountain views, clouds, during family holidays, playing at home. Here’s one of his cameras, a (now vintage) Leica. The film took a seemingly unending amount of time to spool and unspool.

But one of the things you discover with a photographer in the family is that – while there are many photos of us – there aren’t so many of Dad. But we found a particularly nice one of him which we’ve put on the inside. He has his camera round his neck, and is outside, on a walk with our Mum at Silverdale.

Walking, with his camera round his neck, whether in the Alps, the Jura, the high fells, or a low-level stroll, taking pictures of unusual cloud formations, some of which became cover shots in the Royal Meteorological Society’s Weather Magazine, being able to read the landscape like a book, be it the Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous… Many of our fondest memories of Dad come from walks with him, and I’m sure that’s the case with many of you, as well. Once he’d realised you also had an interest in the skies and the rock formations beneath your feet he’d tell you about them with passion, knowledge and humour. He brought this into his teaching, too, as you’ve already heard from David and Juanita.

We all went to the secondary school where Dad taught. Unlike what you might expect when your dad was a teacher in your school, being Mr Squires’ son or daughter actually had a certain cachet. For us as young children, his classroom at King Edwards was a thing of fascination – not least because he had some fossilised dinosaur poo among his collection. For Julie and Michael’s wedding last year, Dad had the superb idea of collecting some very rare fossilised hail stones (aka bird’s eye tuff) from a top secret Cumbrian location to serve as place markers.

Dad was also a keen sportsman: rugby and cricket, in particular, including bowling out Middlesex’s two opening batsmen in his first two overs at the age of 17 for Buckinghamshire Colts, playing for the Thames Valley Licenced Victuallers’ Association – and bombing around in a friend’s Messerschmitt car. A great highlight as a sports watcher was seeing Viv Richards score a half century for the West Indies at Trent Bridge with Mark. When Mum and Dad moved to Kendal, he became a member of Kendal Cricket Club, and would regularly head down to watch the match on a Saturday afternoon. We were really touched – and we know Dad would have been delighted – to receive an email to say that a flag would be raised for him at the Cricket Club.

As children we played many a game of back garden cricket, with the cry of ‘6 and out’ heralding another ball lofted into the back field. We played long games of catch – itself a competitive sport for Squireses. We’ve watched the final Six Nations games together these last two weekends, and missed Dad and Grandad’s presence.

There were certain things you shouldn’t do around Dad, though – speak during the weather forecast, or try to fill the dishwasher. Any attempt to do the latter would find your efforts quietly taken out and restacked. As Dad got poorly over the course of the year he started to leave dishwasher filling to others, but still recently he did a thorough clean of it.

One thing Dad kept until his dying day, though, was his amusement and engagement with people and with politics, and particularly his encouragement and love of children and young people. One of our friends said ‘I remember how his eyes lit up when he saw our children’; his last DIY job was to make a little ‘fairy door’ for another’s child. Dad’s favourite reading matter in recent months (alongside the Guardian, the New Statesman, Weather Magazine and Practical Photography) was the Screwfix catalogue. He’d always be heading out to get the right washer or nail, and not too long ago he sent Mum out to fetch hardware supplies. The tools in the garage are in immaculate order, each screwdriver, pair of pliers, and hammer in its place. His music collection is perhaps not quite so ordered, but he gave us instructions about the music we’d play today. His favourites were the soundtrack of our childhood.

Dad would regale us as children with his made-up tales of Flemish-speaking gnomes who lived in a room in our house dubbed the Glory Hole. He was a great storyteller for adults, too. Meeting the Beatles while at university (unimpressed), spotting the cricketer Jack Hobbs in his shop (lifetime highlight), lunch with The Nawaab of Pataudi, who went on to become ‘India’s finest cricket captain’, the adventures and sad demise of Jim the Ferret – these were just a few of the tales he told. I’m sure you know some more, and we’d love to hear them.

For Harriet and Tom, Dad’s youngest grandchildren, their memories are that their Grandad would play chase games with them round the house when they were little, take them walking to Arnside and to the beach café, and that he was always kind. Once, said Tom, ‘when we were playing chase I threw a marble that hit his foot, and he said no, we don’t throw things inside, and I knew it was a really serious thing.’ Harriet says her Grandad always asked her what she was reading, and when Dad and Philip and Colin would ‘go on about rugby or clouds or rocks and I didn’t really understand he would explain it in an organised sensible way so that it was easy.’ Even when he was poorly, says Harriet, ‘He told me stories about when Dad and Claire and Julie were little and made it sound like an important secret’. Their grandad loved people, Harriet says, and cheese, and knickerbocker glories. We adults would also add wine to that list…

Cheese and wine were, of course, two loves that went hand-in-hand with Dad’s greatest love, for Mum. Mum and Dad met while Mum was a French assistant at King Edwards, and they swiftly agreed to marry. Our aunt Marie-Claude, Mum’s sister, tells how Dad came into their French lives as a breeze of happiness, a ‘Prince Charmant’, always full of laughter, stories, and maps. He very quickly made Mum’s family his family, sharing wonderful summer holidays in France, under the August skies filled with shooting stars.

When we were children, going with Dad down into the town would take an age, as he’d meet people he knew, and stop to chat. When Mum and Dad moved to Kendal after several years of retirement, it didn’t take long before the same effect started to happen. The house Mum and Dad moved to in Kendal is close to the river but is not – as Dad well knew – on the flood plain. When Storm Desmond hit, Dad’s excitement at extreme weather conditions was evident, although his vindication at buying a house away from the flood plain did not lessen his sympathy for all those affected by the floods.

Writing this on a day when the spring sunshine warms the skin and the birds sing through the air, we’re so sad that he won’t see this year’s spring flowers, the new lambs, and the longer evenings. Mark talked this week about cutting the grass, and how in the act of doing it himself (probably not quite so carefully or neatly), he remembers Dad pushing the old petrol-powered lawnmower, cutting the edges, lifting the swing from around the frame to mow underneath. It’s in these small, repeated, quiet acts – doing the crossword, filling the dishwasher, bending to pick up an interesting rock – that we’ll miss him most of all, and remember him best.

The ‘Batting Order’:



Philip Pullman and The Book of Dust

fullsizerenderPhilip Pullman announced this week that he’ll be publishing the first in a new trilogy of novels based in the worlds of His Dark Materials this autumn. I wrote about the announcement in The Conversation, thinking in particular about the expansion of existing fictional worlds by both fans and authors, and also the contemporary political resonances.

I wrote a reader’s guide to Pullman’s trilogy in 2002, and a longer critical book on Pullman – Philip Pullman, Master Storyteller: A Guide to the Worlds of His Dark Materials – in 2006. The cover of my book was a design by a fan.

Like many other fans, I’m keen to see what he writes next!

Gangin on a Bear Hunt

photoI was on the annual, last-minute hunt for Christmas presents today. After a brief foray into Cass Art (where I mainly sat down and drew a couple of Christmas cards, see below), I headed over to Waterstone’s Argyle Street, site of some of the best launch parties for Glasgow writers.

The shop didn’t disappoint in its present possibilities, and in the good humour of its staff and patience of its customers in the face of the queues. (There was a teenage boy who declared his interest in conceptual art to his pals while examining a book of photos who also pleased me.)

But what charmed me most was a middle-aged couple I passed on the stairs; them on the way down, me on the way up. At the turn of the steps was a display of Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going on a Bear Huntfirst published in 1989 and a perennial favourite of children and their parents ever since.

The women stopped, and read out the title in recognition, her attention perhaps attracted by the large toy bear next to it. Then, with a delighted intake of breath, she read the title of the book next to it, emphasising the second word for her companion. ‘We’re Gangin on a Bear Hunt‘.

We’re Gangin on a Bear Hunt is translated into Scots for the first time this year by Susan Rennie, and is published by the wonderful Floris Books (this year’s Saltire Society Publisher of the Year, which I had the privilege to be on the judging panel for).

photo-2The woman’s delight on the stair as she saw the book, shows why it’s such a good idea to translate classics, as well as originating texts in Scotland’s diverse languages. (I had to continue shopping, but I hope she bought a copy to revist the story with its Scots twist…)

Oh, and here’s a perky robin and tree from my drawings… Sláinte and Merry Christmas to you all!


Histories of (Famous Five) Reading

fullsizerenderMy academic work falls into the disciplinary fields of publishing studies and history of the book (you can find more about my research here). One of the sub-fields of the history of the book is the history of reading, the area that – as book historian Robert Darnton put it – ‘remains the most difficult stage to study in the circuit that books follow’ (from ‘What is the History of Books?’). Empirical reading histories can nonetheless be traced in a range of ways: through borrowing records of libraries, for example, such as those found in Perthshire’s Innerpeffray Library, or in accounts of reading in letters between correspondents or in private diaries (an excellent resource for which is the Reading Experience Database), or in marginalia (such as those in William Gladstone’s extensive collection of books housed in Gladstone’s Library). The excellent primer A History of Reading was put together by one of my Stirling colleagues, if you want to find out more.

A recent trip to my parents made me pull off the shelves old copies of Famous Five books. I was partly reminded by the publishing of Enid Blyton for Grown Ups parody titles in the run-up to Christmas (sample titles: Five on Brexit Island, or Five Go Gluten Free), but also by the memory of what I’d done with these books, which I’ve already written about briefly.

img_3022Like many bookish children, I’d tried to make my own library (though it was hard to persuade borrowers to visit), and the evidence of the ticket holders are still there (though none of the tickets – where did they go?). In some titles, I’d recorded where I’d got the books from (reminding me of the specific shelf where the books were stored in our local bookshop). In others, I’d ticked off titles I already had, and done sums to work out how many there were left to acquire.

I’d also marked all my books out of 20 (with quite a grade variation – from 8/20 to 20/20 in the copies to hand), and used my Puffin name plates to indicate that the puffins were engaged in the same activities as George (obviously an early crush). In the front of another, I’d also itemised which of the titles I owned, and which my brother. (I found some of the ones that belonged to my brother; they had less marginalia and no grading.) This – I am sure – was indicative of some sibling rivalry/internecine book-owning strife.

Looking at these material objects made a whole load of reading memories come flooding back, but also left me with some gaps in remembrance, and also a question as to what were my grading criteria. Some might say that Enid Blyton wrote to a formula, but to one child’s mind there was a high degree of differentiation.

On the rooftops

It’s the turn of the year, from 2015 to 2016.

2015 saw the mass movement of refugees of Syrians, fleeing violence in their homeland (and their adopted homeland, in the case of Palestinian refugees who had already been forced from their homes). The images of perilous sea journeys, dead children, barbed wire at borders, welcoming crowds at train stations, are etched on our minds.

Part-way through the year, I wrote this response to the situation in Calais’s ‘Jungle’, and of my own experience volunteering with young refugees and asylum seekers who had made it to the UK. Despite the manifold suffering of people of all ages, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s the images of the children: dead, living on the street, at last reaching a place of safety, that are the most heart-rending.

One set of images intensified the focus on the refugee crisis – that of Alan [Aylan] Kurdi, washed up, face down on a Turkish beach. The author Patrick Ness was moved to action, setting up (and promoting via Twitter) a fundraiser for Save the Children. Match funding offers from authors, illustrators and publishers (mostly from among the children’s and young adult writing community) meant that within a week, more than $1 million was raised.

I was one of the many who donated to the fundraiser, and hit lucky. The comic artist and illustrator Sally Jane Thompson had decided on a draw to win a commission from her, from among those who had donated. I was delighted when Sally contacted me to say she’d picked me – I like the clear lines and liveliness of her style. I asked her if she would draw an author portrait with a difference. The characters of the book I’m writing spend much of their time on the rooftops of Glasgow buildings, so I thought it would be great to have me up there too! Continue reading


This week I’ll be chairing a Book Week Scotland event at Stirling Central Library. It’s a ‘ThankBooks’ panel, featuring several writers (Alan Bissett, Lisa Ballantyne, Billy Letford and Shari Low) who will be talking about a book, author, character or library that made them what they are today.

C7 (2)Preparing for the panel has made me think about my own early reading and writerly inspirations. I was a bookish child: here’s me with my nose in a big book of fairy tales, one of my favourites when I was little. Perhaps no surprise that when I came across Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories as an adult I loved its exhilarating, weird, erotic feminist retellings. Who can forget the moment in the title story when the mother gallops, gun blazing, to snatch her daughter from the hands of the murderous Marquis? Or the ‘wily, perspicacious and resourceful’ Puss-in-Boots, who ‘can perform a back somersault whilst holding aloft a glass of vino in his right paw and never spill a drop’? (After reading this stuff, real life is always going to seem a little grey.)

My favourite book of all as a little girl was J M Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy, which I read innumerable times. I had an edition with the Mabel Lucie Attwell illustrations, and my parents copied me out a flying Peter Pan on a big piece of paper, which I had stuck to the lampshade in the middle of my bedroom. In my head, though, the story was much wilder than the charming illustrations suggested: the interloper boy who steals the children away from the security of their home to fly across the skies to Neverland couldn’t be tamed. Many years later, I delighted in Geraldine McCaughrean’s official sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet (commissioned to continue the flow of royalties to Great Ormond Street Hospital) which perfectly captured Peter Pan’s wildness and prickliness. Continue reading

Calais: in the warm embrace…

The borders of Europe are in crisis, we are told. People are moving en masse, escaping war, persecution, and – in a least-worst scenario – appalling poverty. The particular focus for the British media is the thousands of migrants in Calais’s ‘Jungle’, who are attempting to come to the UK via the Channel Tunnel, risking horrific injury, or death.

Some of our politicians (including those in power), and parts of the media, have taken to using language to describe the migrants that is entirely dehumanising. In so doing, the people of the ‘swarm’ are robbed of their individuality, their histories, and their narratives. We are robbed of our compassion, and our understanding of our privileged place in the world. And they, and we, are robbed of our common humanity.

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers of Calais

A much higher number of migrants is currently arriving on other, poorer European shores: Greece, and Italy. The UK concentration on Calais in itself betrays a limited worldview, forgetting the greater contribution others in the EU are making to homing asylum seekers. Yet for this ‘crisis’ to be happening in Calais is, for me, of particular resonance.

My father is English, my mother French. Every summer holiday when we were children, for several weeks (my parents both being school teachers) we’d pack the bags, the car, feed the cassette player, and head south. It was a few hours journey from Lincolnshire to Dover, then the ferry – where the sun would always start to shine – and, after a little queuing to get off the ferry and into France – onto the smooth and (relatively) empty autoroutes. We’d stop off overnight with relatives in Paris, and head further south the next morning, braving the hectic traffic on the Peripherique. Further south still, we’d reach the watershed, where the water divides across France – to the west coast or the south. Then finally, several sticky, argumentative hours later, to my grandparents’ flat.

We’d stay for four weeks or so, sometimes heading off on a holiday within a holiday, to Provence, or the Alps. We’d spend days reading, swimming, sunbathing, playing cards, watching the August meteor showers… the same ‘etoiles filantes’ which are currently raining down over our heads.

Continue reading

26 Winters

musuem-of-childhoodI’ve just heard that I’m going to be involved in an exciting project, which will take me both from summer into winter, and adulthood into childhood.

The writers’ collective 26 recently put out a call for contributors to a project in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. 26 writers will each be allocated an object from the Museum’s collections, and asked to write a ‘sestude’ about it – a work consisting of 62 words. The objects – and our sestudes – will then be revealed in an online advent calendar in the lead-up to Christmas. This, alongside an exhibition in the museum, will raise money for the charity It’s Good 2 Give.

I’m already wondering about my object: will it be skittles? A hula hoop? Something more seasonal – a pair of ice skates?

And are hyphenated words counted as one word or two? By my reckoning, this blog is already nearly 150 words long, so I’m hoping a bit of hyphenation might help me sneak in an extra word or two. I expect our editors will be very strict, though, and something unpleasant* from the School Days section of the Museum will be used on me if I cheat.

You can follow what we’re getting up to on Twitter using the #26Winters hashtag.

*Apparently they have a cane and leather tawses.