Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 5

Sunday 24th May

My sister and niece arrived last night so I had guests as well as trying to finish last minute instructions for The Walking Writer. My niece is fifteen and does not do the 'W' word. So my sister and I left her in lazing in bed and in good time to meet the walkers at West Finchley station.

A lot of people asked about the weather, when I had checked it said that rain was expected at 3.00pm, one of the walkers said it was 1.00pm. We set off in hope at 11.30am.

Our first stop was a field where there used to be an old house, Brent Lodge. Built in 1810 it later became the home of Francis A. Hamilton. Despite opposition from Spike Milligan and the Finchley Society, the house was demolished in 1971.
We journeyed on to Dollis Brook and saw the new path recently installed by TFL; the idea is that cyclists and walkers can both use it. Unfortunately it has caused a bit of upset amongst walkers. 

Then we did our first writing exercise which just involved closing eyes and listening to all the sounds. One chap couldn't close his eyes as he said he'd fall over. We then continued the journey in silence until we ended up at the lake for a lovely reading, The Lake by Roger McGough, actually it wasn't so lovely...
Down on the lake, piggy eyes glisten
They have acquired a taste for flesh.
They are licking their lips. Listen .. .

We had lots of readings and creative writing exercises as well as detours into hollows and wooded paths. We stopped for refreshments at Finchley Golf Club and had delicious sandwiches and drinks. Apparently the original owner had a thing for beavers. There are stone beavers outside and wooden ones inside, possibly having escaped from Narnia only to be captured by the beaver-loving golfer!

After lunch and a few Haiku's we continued on our merry way towards Whetstone but only after a few more detours. I began to be a bit worried that I wouldn't make the next event in time so phoned Lindsay to say I might be late.

We visited Brookdene wooded area that is under threat from developers (though not if we can help it). Mr Greenacres who has charted every green space in Finchley takes his role as Green Spaces Champion very seriously. He read an excerpt from Wind in the Willows (see below) and read poems where Spike Milligans house used to stand. The highlight was the finish! Tea and delicious home-made cake at Redwood Cafe in Swan Lane Open space just as the rain arrived.

`I beg your pardon,' said the Mole, pulling himself together with an effort. `You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So--this--is--a--River!'
`THE River,' corrected the Rat.
`And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!'
`By it and with it and on it and in it,' said the Rat. `It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other...'
For the final event of the day and indeed the 2015 Finchley Literary Festival, I'll hand you over to Lindsay, who has written an excellent account of an excellent event and awesome finale which you see here.

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 4

Saturday 23rd May

I was hoping to have a little lay in this morning but unfortunately my body clock seems to have got stuck at 6am. I'm not sure why this is because usually I cannot wake up in time for work and I'm often late though of course it's never my fault as usually I am abducted by aliens en-route. And usually when I wake, I lay sleepily in my bed drowsing. Not so at the moment, I'm like a zombie that smells human flesh - eyes wide and senses all alert.

I thought of fellow coordinator Lindsay, preparing for her Voice Skills Workshop and Katie Alford, fellow Greenacre Writer who would be running her first workshop ever. And in the meantime I tweaked my introduction speech for the YA event at Waterstones. My only dilemna was whether to take the bike or walk and in the end I walked.

Savita, Alex and Ellie
Arriving at Waterstones, Alex Wheatle and Ellie Daines were already there. I think I was more nervous than they were. It's really quite odd, the adrenaline inside my body was acting like a bottle of shaken fizz. I grabbed handfuls of flyers and stood outside the shop shouting at passers-by, 'Interested in literature, books, reading...' 'Come in out of the rain (and seeing one of the booksellers out of the corner of my eye) added, '...and buy some books,' just as Savita arrived and I laughed at myself. 

Once the introductions were over, I settled down to listen to these three Young Adult writers. I heard how Alex's novel Liccle Bit was based on a young person he had met through his community work. A young boy who had been sucked into a gang. He didn't want to be there and unfortunately he ended up in prison. Alex was so moved by his story that he began writing. 

Savita's novel The Long Weekend had it's beginnings when her child was in primary school and there had been a flyer doing the rounds about a man who had tried to abduct a child. She began to think about the incident and realised just how easily it could happen.

Ellie's novel, Sine Izzy Shine is about a mother who has amnesia and thinks she is the same age as her daughter. Even from the short extract I heard, I immediately grasped how the roles of mother and daughter had been reversed. Ellie explained how a relative suffered with Alzheimers and this was what had fired her imagination.

Leading up to the event there had been a lot of activity on Twitter about diversity in children's literature. Alex, Savita and Ellie continued this conversation with the audience during question time. I was very moved by Alex remembering as a child how he and his family were invisible in literature. Alex was an avid reader as were Savita and Ellie. Literature that is available in bookshops is determined by what the publishers believe readers want, it's about time that they actually spoke to readers and really heard what they have to say. The audience in Waterstones was pretty diverse with many nationalalities and backgrounds represented and these readers want to see themselves represented in literature.

I had been looking forward to the next event, Murder in the Library, all week. It was my chance to sit and write and not worry about anything for a couple of hours. I had been thinking about my inner investigator and I was torn between an intelligent buxom blonde and nervy, perceptive Kenyan librarian. So I decided they would work together. And what fun I had. My murder victim was the Councillor for Libraries and of course we all know that libraries are under threat so a lot of people hated him! (The perfect victim must be hated) I explored North Finchley library, where the event was held, for a convenient place to hide the body. Josie and Penny did an excellent job of discussing just enough about the various roles in a crime novel to get our imaginations well oiled. I'm going on a writing retreat in a couple of weeks and I'll be taking my investigators with me.

Our final event for Saturday was an absolute hoot! Anna Meryt organised the poets and musicians for the Poetry and Music Palooza that was held at Cafe Buzz in North Finchley. I think I've probably written enough for one day, so I'll hand you over to Lindsay who has also written about this event in more detail.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she'd supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling no sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.

Waters evokes perfectly the atmosphere of losing a private space in a home. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class', the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways.

Then she realised that Lilian was not moving away; she was simply looking out into the passage to be sure that no one else was near. Now, in fact, she was turning back, she was drawing breath, she was stepping forward-pushing off from the doorpost as if gently but bravely launching herself into a stretch of chill water.
And with no more effort than that, no more fuss, no more surprise, she came across the room to Frances and touched her lips to hers.

As passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Greenacre Writers was selected as one of the 12 book clubs who were shadowing the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015. We were given The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters was well as a lovely bottle of Baileys and some bookmarks.

This was the first Sarah Waters novel that I've read. I enjoyed being taken back in time and had no problem with the intensity of the relationship. I found the descriptions of paying guests arriving and living in the house and all that brings with it, like the loss of privacy very lifelike. It is almost as if Waters takes the traditional Lady and Servant roles and turns them up-side down. Lillian is the more bohemian, Frances scrubs floors without shame.

I didn't enjoy the suspense of the murder trial, though I enjoyed the plot (if that makes sense). I did feel the author rather let the reader down by the ending, I really wanted to know what would have happened had the outcome been different. This could possibly have been a book for which there were two endings.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 3

Friday 22nd May 2015

Duncan Barrett
Our first event of the day took place at Waterstones, North Finchley with Duncan Barrett (unfortunately Nuala Calvi was unwell). Duncan spoke about their latest book The Girls Who Went to War. Their previous books include The Sugar Girls and GI Brides. I learnt a lot about women in the services during WW2, and interestingly though not unsurprisingly, they had to put up with a lot of unkindness from the general public who thought they were all 'tarts'. The Government were so worrried that they made a propaganda film The Gentle Sex. The Girls is already a bestseller and is at No.3 of the Sunday Times top ten.

While we were rehearsing for the next event, Paul Baker was meeting walkers at Finchley Central station and taking them for a literary walk. Paul, a qualified City of London guide, led a special Finchley Lit Fest walk. Two miles from Finchley Central to East Finchley, taking people past a number of Finchley's literary connections including Charles Dickens, Sir Edmund Gosse, John Betjeman, Spike Milligan and Will Self, amongst others and painters, William Hogarth, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Ford Madox Brown. Even more Finchley in Fiction here.

The next event was Mike Gee's Literary Slideshow. This was a slightly different show from his usual secret green spaces event, it included readings by Lindsay, Mark Kitchenham, Chris Hurwitz-Bremner and myself of over twenty pieces of poetry and prose to lovely photos. I particularly enjoyed the last two lines of The Song of the Dandelion Fairy: (There are fairies with this link!) '...You can never drive me out, Me, the dauntless Dandelion!' However, this event nearly didn't happen. Just as we left Mike's house with a lorry-load of equipment, two fire engines went whizzing past. I didn't know where they were headed but I did instinctively feel we should go the long way round to the library. It was just as well we did because when one of the guests arrived he said there was a fire in North Finchley High Road and people were stuck in traffic for up to two hours. North Finchley library is at the top end of Finchley. There were some people who didn't make it but we still had fun and decided (to our peril) that it was a rehearsal for another literary slideshow in the future. Date to be confirmed!

I couldn't attend the Writing for Wellbeing event with Andi Michael but I heard from a participant that she had a wonderful time. More events tomorrow!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 2

Thursday 22nd May 2015 - Part Two

Jen Campbell came to visit us in Friern Barnet Community Library as part of the festival. I've been following Jen on Twitter for some time and it was Jen that introduced me to Mike Carey's novel, The Girl with all the Gifts. Jen is a bit like The Girl with all the Books because she reads at least two a week and has a wealth of knowledge not just about books but about bookshops too. Not just books and bookshops but also the author of bestselling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series plus a very interesting Booktube channel

Jen gave us some examples of the weird things customers say: 'Do you have this children's book I've heard about? It's supposed to be very good. It's called Lionel Richie and the Wardrobe.'
But behind the fun aspect of Jen's books is the really serious and important message of how books and bookshops educate and inform. The same way as having access to libraries works: for information, other worlds, and a much needed peaceful environment. When a country wants to oppress its people, it often begins by burning books or closing libraries. Jen told us about a bookshop in Kenya that keeps being burnt down, Khaleb Omondi, the man who owns it keeps reopening new bookshops, his resilience is scary, brave and admirable. Book burning becomes emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime which is seeking to censor or silence an aspect of a nation's culture.
We've had a lot of fun meeting such a diverse group of authors and book people, and there's more events happening. We've joked about zombies and book bugs but behind the festival is a serious message that is all tied up with access to books, access to information and why our theme this year is supporting our libraries. Holding events in libraries is sending a message to our council: we love libraries, we use libraries, we want access to local libraries in our community. We will support Unison and librarians when they strike 1st and 2nd June. We will not be shushed.

Also see The Library Debate

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 2

Thursday 22nd May - Part One

Today was calmer sort of day. I enjoyed catching up with Twitter and Facebook friends and comments. It's wonderful to see so many people involved and enjoying this year's festival. Sometimes when you are the one organising, as well as meeting and greeting, it is difficult to relax and just listen. However, today I didn't have that problem. Antonia Honeywell kindly came to Finchley to talk about her new book The Ship.

Earlier in the morning Allen Ashley ran a poetry workshop with an astromony theme 'Sun, Moon and Planets'. Allen said, "Everyone worked really hard to produce some great poems."

Antonia Honeywell
Murni, FLF photographer, attended Antonia's talk and felt inspired: "Today I learnt about realising a dream. Antonia has three young children like me and gives up her job to be a homemaker. The pain of no longer earning is huge, but the support from her husband and in-laws take her to finish her debut novel.
In the British Museum she saw a bemoaning teenager with her parents; she knew 'that child' would be her protagonist sixteen-year-old Lalla. The financial crisis in 2008 further drove the idea forward, for in every crisis there were people who would take advantage of the situation. Against her wish Lalla boarded on the ship her father had built, along with five hundred others people he'd chosen. Everybody was willing but her. Everybody asked no question but her. Where were they going?
The road to her being published is hardly a fairy tale. And yet her wish to be an author is so strong that she wouldn't let it go.
I may not have an English degree like her and English is my second language, but just as her I write. And I'll write until it's finished. One day, I hope I'll hold firmly a book in my hand with my name on the bottom."

I also found myself inspired and moved by some of Antonia's observations. I so enjoyed listening to her intellectual and creative ideas. She came up with some gems for writers: "Be absolutely sure you've come to the end of your commercial journey before getting self published." Writers find it really hard to remove bits of their writing. You don't have to kill your darlings, was Antonia's tip, just 'cut' bits of your writing and put in a temporary file. She said she could count on one hand scenes that went back in, which was hardly any.

When I got home late in the afternoon, I began to feel a little frustrated thinking myself a crap writer because I haven't been writing for some time. Rather than take the path of self-flagellation, I decided to give myself a little treat, as a way to force myself to sit and write. I've signed up for Murder in the Library at North Finchley Library on Saturday at 2.00pm. Like Murni, I'm an Agatha Christie fan and I've been wanting to write a crime drama for some time.

See also Lindsay's account

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Diary of a Festival Organiser - Day 1

Wednesday 20th May 2015

The day began with a bit of panic when I discovered most of the organisers and participants had been struck down by a mystery virus, see more here.

This year the festival theme is supporting libraries. We intend to make the most of them while they are still here and we support all the library campaigns all over the UK fighting to save their libraries. 

We were very pleased to be launching the festival at Church End Library with Theresa Musgrove, The Hand that Smoothes the Pillow: Mary Ann Cotton – the Life and Times of a Victorian Serial Killer. 

It seems that Theresa's research is a way to take her mind off the recent election results. She is now "concentrating her mind on the happy subject of serial killers, and death by poisoning, which makes a pleasant contrast to the malodorous subject of politics in the London Borough of Broken Barnet."

Theresa Musgrove
Murni, a Greenacre Writer and FLF photographer, said about the event, "I learnt about a woman, the same age like mine, who was sent to the gallows in 1873 because of her crimes. The arsenic queen, Mary Ann Cotton, killed four of her husbands, her lovers, her step children and her OWN ones that make twenty one victims in total. Little known until recently, she is more murderous than her contemporaries Jack the Ripper and Dr. Harold Shipman." 

Her descendant Theresa Musgrove @brokenbarnet spoke about her life and Mary Ann Cotton's personae as part of Finchley Literary Festival."

Theresa, who incidentally is a descendant Mary Ann Cotton, is now writing what she hopes will be the definitive study of the life of the Victorian poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton.

Later that evening, we decamped to Friern Barnet Community Library for Mike Carey's event. I discovered that Mike and his wife Linda had worked as volunteers when the library was occupied.
Lindsay just after she'd bitten me. And me zombiefied (Mike unaware he is about to be bitten)
                                 Mike reading from The Girl.           J.P. O'Malley interviewing Mike                           
More zombies (Mike is of course wearing a human mask -he'd already been struck down with the Zombie Book Bug!)
I think the photographs tell the story of the evening quite well. For a more detailed description see Lindsay Bamfield's blog.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Something Strange is happening in Finchley

The Girl with all the Gifts is not the type of book that I would usually read. Even back in my teenage days when I was addicted to horror, the novels I read were more likely to have their storylines based in some sort of reality, like The Rats, by James Herbert. In those days, I never read Science Fiction. 

So when I saw a tweet from Jen Campbell, about a new online book club I decided to take part, mainly because I didn't feel I was doing enough reading. I never thought that I would be reading a book about Zombies. Jen also did an interview with the author, Mike Carey where he talks about his writing and where the idea for The Girl came from.

I went to Muswell Hill Bookshop and looked for the book in the fiction section without really knowing what I was looking for apart from I knew it had a bright yellow cover and was about a young girl. When I couldn't find it I was very disappointed, so I asked behind the issue desk.
'Oh, that'll be in the Science Fiction Section,' said the assistant and went off down the shop to get it.

'Oh'. I murmured to her retreating back and wondered what on earth I was buying.

I wished she'd hurry up because I was hungry even though I'd only had my lunch half an hour before.

When I got outside the bookshop, I read the back cover again (I'd already seen it online). I went for a coffee, some sandwiches, some cake and chocolate and I was still hungry. I opened the book and began to read. Almost from the first page, where the reader meets ten year old Melanie who's in some sort of a prison and who is interested in fairy tales, I found myself caring about the character and I was hooked.

"Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh."

I continued reading. However, I was a bit concerned at my behaviour, just buying a book without really knowing what it was. When I got back to Finchley later that day, I noticed there was a strange smell in the air and I began to feel a bit dizzy. And when I got home, I was so hungry again. But nothing I ate satisfied me. I even found myself sleepwalking and eating food from the fridge and the cupboards. The only way I could forget the hunger was to read.

As I delved further into the narrative, I became quite concerned for my mental health. I felt as if I was in a film that was real, the descriptions pulled me into a post apocolyptic world where I desperately wanted to save Melanie and eat the zombies. I made myself stop reading past 6.00pm because the images in my head needed time to settle down. For the first half of the book, I went to sleep petrified. And all the time, I could hear strange mumblings outside my window at night.

The Girl with all the Gifts deals with a dystopian future in which most of humanity is wiped out by a fungal infection. It's a good plot though it is the characters that drive the story, through Finchley and other north London landmarks including the artsdepot overun with zombies.

Zombies! Why was I reading a book about zombies. There seems to be a lot of interest in Finchley about these strange creatures. Last week the local press contacted the festival organisers for a photoshoot but all they were really interested in was Mike Carey's book. I couldn't attend as I was at work. But the others went along and as our theme this year is supporting local libraries, they met outside Church End Library. Is it me or is there something a bit odd about the photograph? They seem to be lurching from side to side?

Murni who appears on the left, wanted me to be in the photo too and so she took some photos of Lindsay, myself, Mike and Robert a few days ago. But even these seem a little odd, perhaps it's because it was early in the morning and none of us looked our best. There is something happening in Finchley, the earth is rumbling, there's a funny smell in the air, we're all hungry and we're all buying books...the zombies are coming...

                       Lindsay       Rosie          Mike         Robert

Mike and Jen will be at this year's Finchley Literary Festival. Mike will be discussing The Girl with all the Gifts, Wednesday 20th May 7.00pm and Jen will be discussing her latest book The Bookshop Book on Thursday 21st May 6.00pm at Friern Barnet Community Library

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Finchley in Fiction - Part Two

Continuing on from last week, I have found some more links to Finchley in Fiction:

Mr. Finchley is a fictional character in three comic novels by Victor Canning (unfortunately no relation to me), a novelist who later gained great success with thrillers. He first appears in Canning's very first book, Mr. Finchley Discovers his England, published in 1934 and as Mr. Finchley's Holiday in the USA in 1935.

Scoop is a 1938 novel by the English writer Evelyn Waugh, a satire of sensationalist journalism and foreign correspondents: ‘That evening, Mr Salter, foreign editor of The Beast, was summoned to dinner at his chief’s country seat at East Finchley.' What a wonderful title for a newspaper, we've had more than enough Beast reporting leading up to and beyond the Election.

Bluebottle, a character in the 1950s BBC radio series The Goon Show, hails from East Finchley. Peter Sellers, who played Bluebottle, lived in the area at one time.

The Monty Python's Flying Circus comedy sketch, The Funniest Joke in the World (1969), is set in Finchley. The premise of the sketch is that the joke is so funny that anyone who reads or hears it promptly dies from laughter. Please don’t laugh while reading this!

The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky wrote a poem c 1978 with the title 'East Finchley', but it's been quite difficult to find a copy. Finchley Boy, Allen Ashley leads a poetry workshop with an astronomy theme. Sun, Moon and Planets is aimed at writers of all levels. Find out more here.

In the 2005 film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan Pevensie says that she and her siblings, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy, are from Finchley, despite no mention of Finchley being made in C. S. Lewis's book

In Ben Elton's Blind Faith (2007), loosely based on Orwell's 1984, the setting is a flooded London: '[Finchley] was not an easy place for Trafford to get to, as it involved crossing Lake London with his bicycle and disembarking at the Paddington jetty …'

Two for Sorrow (2011) by Nicola Upson takes place in East Finchley being about the notorious Finchley baby farmers and is a traditional detective novel using Josephine Tey, a real writer(!), to investigate a modern day killing. A bit odd to use a real writer as your fictional detective and I do wonder if she pulled it off.

At last year's Finchley Literary Festivel, we were very lucky to have Caitlin Davies as one of our speakers. The Ghost of Lily Painter (2012) is also about the baby farmers of East Finchley. Davis' exhaustive research shines through all her novels, plunging the reader into a literary time machine. You can find out more about her research and writing here.

One summer’s night, while drunkenly crossing Trent Park Golf Course, Hal Maybury, errant husband, ale drinker and Finchley resident, finds in a canyon where the 17th hole should be something that will change his life forever and something that London will never forget. (And no it wasn’t Brian Coleman) Hal is the protagonist of The I AM, (2012) by Robert Samuels.

Foul Deeds And Suspicious Deaths In Barnet, Finchley And Hendon (2009) Nick Papadimitriou chooses over 20 notorious cases that give a fascinating insight into criminal acts and the criminal mind. It seems as if there has been a lot of murder in Finchley both in real life and in fiction. If you'd like to find out about crime writing join Murder in the Library, a Finchley Literary Festival workshop that stimulates your imagination, gets your plot in a twist and kills all your enemies on paper only.

Another crime and another writer, Mark Billingham mentions Finchley in Bloodline (2010). Emily Walker is found beaten and suffocated with a plastic bag in her Finchley home, she appears to be the victim of a domestic dispute.

Moon over Soho (2011) by Ben Aaronovitch mentions Finchley, “Jerry Johnson was one of the latter type of non-Londoner, born in Finchley in 1940 by the grace of God and died in a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich…”

Finchley wouldn't be the same without a mention of John Betjeman, who was the first Patron of The Finchley Society. Betjeman, along with Spike Milligan fought to save Hawthorndene, the historic house at the entrance to Strawberry Vale Estate. When congratulating the society on saving the building, Betjeman wrote: “Long live Finchley and its sudden steep hills, tree-shaded gardens, and memories of a civilised prosperity.”

Spike Milligan lived in Finchley and Finchleyites hold him in very high esteem, I really can't do justice in a few lines, but join Paul Baker, a qualified City of London guide, who leads a special Finchley Lit Fest walk to find out more about this Finchley hero. More details here.

Kate Atkinson mentions Finchley numerous times in 'Life After Life' (2014). The protagonist, Ursula’a sister lives in Finchley. We have a huge amount of literary talent in Finchley, if you'd like to listen to some local authors reading their work, then join us in Finchley's only literary cafe, Cafe Buzz for a Celebration of Local Writing

Wonder Women (2013) by Rosie Fiore-Burt, mentions Finchley nearly twenty times, possibly because the protagonist, Jo lives there! Rosie joined Caitlin at last year's festival along with Miriam Halahmy and Alex Wheatle. Alex is back this year, appearing at Waterstones to discuss his highly acclaimed new YA novel Liccle Bit (2015). Alex will be joined by two other YA writers, find out more here.

And finally, Mike Carey’s Girl with all the Gifts (2014), has what is soon to become a famous scene as well as a re-enacted scene, artsdepot in North Finchley, overrun with zombies, filming began this week. If you want to find out more about this unusual book, come to the Finchley Literary Festival, taking place in Finchley with lots of Finchley authors and possibly a few zombies....

If you’d like to learn more about literary Finchley, do come along to one of the FLF events and say hello.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Finchley in Fiction - Part One

After reading Lindsay Bamfield’s blog about the Finchley Literary Festival and how we came up with the idea for the event, and how it was the first literary festival in Barnet, I felt inspired to investigate just how much fiction really took place in Finchley.

I’ve always thought that not much literature was based here. It’s not the sort of place where much ever used to happen apart from Thatcher's fiction (though in the last few years, we have become hot-pot of political activism). So why would anyone, in the past, want to use it as a location or place their characters here. As I began to delve, and with a little help from friends, I realised that I had in fact been mistaken. There are so many references to Finchley in Fiction, that I am having to split the information into two blogs, part one and part two, though each reference could have been a blog in itself.

Back in the mid 1800s, there used to be a Finchley Literary Society, this closed in 1892. There would be monthly performances by elocutionists and others. One such man, Mr Brandram whose ‘extent of his exper-toril’ was apparently, simply astonishing, had memorised all of Shakespeares plays, as well as stage plays by Sheridan and others, innumerable selections from Dickens, Colman, and other writers.

Things come full circle, and at this year’s festival, Lindsay, expert elocutionist, is using her 37 years speech therapy experience to run a Voice Skills Workshop, so there should be quite a bit of excellent elocutionary exper-toril.

Written 1840-1841, as a serial, Master Humphrey’s Clock, later to become, Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), features Mr Garland, one of the principal characters, who lives in Abel Cottage, Finchley. In 1843, whilst writing Martin Chuzzlewit, (1844) Dickens ‘in order to concentrate on the writing and planning of the novel’, found a retreat in Finchley: Cobley’s Farm, where John Forster, biographer and friend remembered ‘walking and talking in the green lanes [of Finchley] as the midsummer months were coming on’. (Writers understand the need to get away and concentrate without the everyday paraphernalia. See our Summer Writing Retreat if you want the space and freedom to write)

The above description, says Theresa Musgrove, a local celebrity blogger and researcher, has echoes in the lesser known works of a Victorian female poet called Jane Rutland, who lived in Finchley and published a book of quite popular verse, Poems Grave and Gay from the Finchley Woods (1865). One of the poems mentions a laburnum flowering by a Squire's back wall – which is most likely Finchley Manor House, now the Sternberg Centre.

Published between 1795 and 1797, Hannah More, wrote a series of moralistic tracts. Of these, the most successful was 'The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain', nothing to do with Finchley. However, it was satirized by Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1847-1848) as 'The Washerwoman of Finchley Common', written in the novel by Lady Emily, daughter of Lady Southdown, and used as a way to ridicule Evangelical Christianity.

There was a one-act farce performed in London in 1861 That Affair at Finchley, by Joseph Stirling Coyne, featuring characters like Sir Courteney Jinks and that wonderful quote: “... the pure air of Finchley - a locality so proverbially healthy that no doctor was ever known to live, and no donkey was ever known to die, in this neighbourhood.”

English comic novel, Diary of a Nobody (1892) by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith records the daily events in the lives of a London clerk, Charles Pooter, his wife Carrie, his son Lupin, and numerous friends and acquaintances over a period of 15 months. The Diary mentions Hampstead and Finchley: “At three o’clock Cummings and Gowing called for a good long walk over Hampstead and Finchley…” We must suppose to get from Hampstead to Finchley, they went via the brook. 

As part of the Finchley Lit Fest, I too have organised a walk via the brook, going further towards Whetstone with a stop at Finchley Golf Club and then lunch at the Redwood Cafe. The Walking Writer workshop is all about nature and writing. Many writers including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank O'Hara used walking as a way of stimulating their writing. Walking is not just good for the physical body; it is good for the mind too. For William Blake and William Wordsworth, writing was a way to leave the outside world behind.

There is possibly a mention of Finchley in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898); I’m still waiting for confirmation of this. (If anyone knows, do let me know, details below)

Henry Charles Stephens, son of Henry Stephens- founder of the Stephens Ink Company, lived in Avenue House which he left, in 1918, as a bequest to the ‘people of Finchley’, along with its grounds. Inky Stephens published books on a wide-range of subjects, including Parochial Self-Government. (This I know is not fiction, but it could be! Plus I have to mention Inky Stephens and the many writers who would have used the wonderful Stephens Ink from Finchley)

At the turn of the century, repairs were strictly the preserve of the tradesman. Hilaire Belloc wrote this funny little verse called 'Lord Finchley', written in 1911, in protest of DIY:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

In part one we learnt about societies, elocution, electrocution, green lanes, retreats, walking, war and ink. In part two, we meet Mr Finchley, The Beast, The Goons, Monty Python, a Russian poet, baby farmers, and a few more murderers and ghosts all with fictional connections to Finchley. In the meantime if you know of any literary Finchley connections, do let me know.

Follow me on Twitter: @rosie_canning
Or email: finchleyliteraryfestival@gmail.com