Monday 24 September 2012

(and the rest of the Hillsbridge books)
A 21st CenturyFairy Tale
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Janet whose father had once been a carting boy in the mines of the Somerset coalfield.  She loved to listen to the stories he told of those long ago days, of winters when he never saw daylight because he was underground from before dawn till nightfall, of the mice who would creep out for crumbs from the miners' 'cogknockers' - bread and cheese,  of a horrific accident that nearly cost him his life, and so on.  He also told of life in the little town.  There was the weekly market where Smasher the Chinaware Man would throw crockery into the air and let it fall to the pavement to attract customers, quack doctors sold their pills and potions, and a dentist would extract teeth on a wagon in the market square in full view of passers-by. There were the concert parties and fetes; and there was the notorious  'draw' when names were picked out of a hat to decide which previously exempt miners would have to go to war in the trenches.   And of course he told too of all the pranks he and his friends played as children - and later!!

Janet decided to use the stories her father had told her as the background to a novel, the story of a family who lived in the mining town of Hillsbridge.   THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, which tells the story of the Halls, opens in 1911 and spans ten years.  It was first published by Macdonald in 1980, and later in various editions by Century.  In the USA it was published as THE HOURS OF LIGHT. 

The original hardback version of THE BLACK MOUNTAINS
Everyone loved the story of the Hall family, so Janet wrote three more books about them, each following the next generation, and Charlotte, heroine of THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, appears in all of them, though no longer centre stage.  THE EMERALD VALLEY tells the story of  her daughter, Amy, who was just a little girl in THE BLACK MOUNTAINS.  Next comes THE HILLS AND THE VALLEY, set during World War 2, with Amy's daughter Barbara in the spotlight, and lastly A FAMILY AFFAIR set in the 1950s when Charlotte's granddaughter is a doctor in Hillsbridge.
Eventually the Hillsbridge quartet went out of print, but lots of people were still asking for them.  Janet had long since run out of spare copies in the loft, and most libraries had long since decided that their well-read and dog-eared copies would have to go, so she and all the people who still wanted to read about the Hall family were very sad.
 But then along came a kind fairy godmother who works for Macmillan Bello.   They publish out-of-print books in e-form and also print-on-demand.   They took a look at the Hillsbridge quartet and said they would like to make them available once again!   So, like all good fairy stories, this one has a very happy ending.
Janet has just heard they are due out on October 11th, and she is very, very excited!!
Author's note:  Janet Tanner is my real name.   But of course I am also Amelia Carr!!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Proof I love green!  But Mum didn't approve ...

Where on earth do superstitions begin?  Some are easy to explain - walk under a ladder and a pot of paint (or worse!) might fall on your head.  Some are symbolic - crossed knives equal crossed swords.  The rest, I imagine, started simply because something bad happened to someone and they associated it with an event that had happened just previously.  For example - Carols Should Only Be Sung at Christmas.  This was one of the things my mother was superstitious about, and she always warned us that proof enough, if proof were needed, was that after singing out-of-season carols when celebrating Christmas late with my aunt and uncle - 'Grampy fell down'.  Grampy was in his eighties and a bit tottery on his feet, but it was the carols that were to blame.  I must say that if there were any truth in this superstition everyone visiting stores and supermarkets between mid-October and Advent would be having very bad luck indeed!
I think my mother was the most superstitious person I have ever met, though she always claimed the dire warning she was issuing was the only thing she was superstitious about.   To the rest of us, though, the list was endless, and none of the portents foretold good fortune, always something dreadful.   She didn't like seeing the new moon 'through the glass', as she described it.  If a picture fell from the wall (which they sometimes did, since we had heavy old frames suspended on rope which was liable to fray) disaster would soon strike.  Even a black cat crossing her path was regarded as unlucky, rather than the traditional 'lucky'. 
But chief among her superstitions was a fear and loathing of the colour green.  To have it anywhere in the house was an absolute no-no, and as for wearing it ....  disaster would surely follow.  So fearful was she of the colour that she would even cut the green title block from the church magazines, saved because they contained details of family christenings or weddings.  My father frequently told her she was being ridiculous but went along with it for the sake of peace, as did my sister and I.   Though my sister finally flouted the 'green is banned' rule by joining the Girl Guides at school - their uniform included a green tie.  My mother did threaten to go and see the pack leader to ask if my sister could be excused wearing the tie, but I think she was eventually talked out of that.
For years and years I avoided green, partly because I didn't want to upset my mother, and partly because I was genuinely afraid of what might happen if I rebelled.  It was a bit like standing on the edge of the high diving board and wondering if I dared jump - except that I did used to jump off the high board, but was too indoctrinated to risk wearing green.   And then crunch time came. 
I wrote in one of my previous blogs about the meningitis my daughter Suzie suffered when she was a baby.   She was lying desperately ill in a sterile cubicle in the Children's Hospital, and each time we visited we were required to put on a gown, which hung on a peg ready for us.  The doctors' gowns were white, the nurses' were brown, and - you've guessed it - the gowns for relatives were green.  I was horrified, thinking it a very bad omen, and the first couple of days I asked for a brown gown instead.  But inevitably the next time the green gown was back, and eventually I made up my mind.  I would wear it.   What would be would be.  If something dreadful happened, which was a very real possibility, I would not blame the green gown.  And if Suzie recovered, I would know the whole thing was nothing but a ridiculous superstition.
Suzie made a miraculous and complete recovery.  And from that day on I have surrounded myself with green.  I love it!  I often wear it, and we decorated our house with loads of green - even painting the front door in a lovely shade of holly.  I never managed to convince poor Mum, though. 
So - am I superstitious about anything?  Well ... I like to think I'm an optimist.  So yes, I do turn over my money when I see the first sliver of new moon.  And yes, I do put on my right shoe before my left so I can put 'my best foot forward'.  But that's not superstition, is it?
I'd rather call it 'positive thinking'!