The shaping of a poet
everything would fit in, then unpacked it in case someone drove off the luggage in the night, and then repacked it at crack of dawn on the morning of departure, using his now tried-and-tested storage technique.”
Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames’s family went from Kent to Loch Stack Lodge in Sutherland for a month every summer. “Bored? Never for a moment bored. Never been bored in Scotland in my life. I never went abroad until I was a soldier. I might have been envious of friends who went to Majorca and learned to water ski, but they didn’t have as much fun as we did, and they didn’t have a salmon on the end of a line.”
DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST
Little Toller Books, £12
What is the book about?
It follows young Dara McAnulty for a year of his life, growing up as an autistic teenager with a deep connection to nature, coping with change and developing relationships.
Who is it aimed at?
Though this is aimed towards
GEMMA McLAUGHLIN teenagers and young people, I think it’s the type of book that could catch the interest of those older or slightly younger as well.
What was your favourite part?
Like the suitcases strapped on to cars heading for the seaside, this book is stuffed with good things. By lights out, Maxtone Graham has offered rather more than just a holiday snapshot. British Summer Time Begins is an insightful cameo of childhood and a valuable record of what children hoped for, feared, enjoyed, and repeated, time and again as they grew older.
In this vivid and ultimately moving picture, many will recognise their own pasts.
And while the voices the author sets down are all grown-up, their younger selves can still be heard, loud and clear, after all these years.
In TV shows, movies and the books that I read it’s rare to find a representation of autistic young people that feels genuine and relatable, but I loved the way this handled that aspect of life. In comparison to the few and far between autistic characters in other books, reading this was
both comforting and refreshing.
What was your least favourite?
I don’t often read autobiographical works so it took a little bit of time to adjust.
Why should someone buy this book?
Aside from the open discussions about his experiences with autism, the ups and downs of growing up, there’s something deeply and undeniably soothing about the book.
MY NAME IS WHY Lemn Sissay
He’s now an admired poet, playwright and Chancellor of Manchester University. But, as a boy, Lemn Sissay was condemned to a marginal existence that denied him his heritage and badly affected his mental health. Separated from his Ethiopian mother at a
Wigan home for unmarried mothers in 1967, he was renamed Norman and placed with a white foster family. Bullying at school and an oppressive brand of Christianity at home led to his removal to the first of several children’s homes when he was 12, unaware that his mother had been pleading for him to be returned to her. Sissay’s memories of the harsh, loveless regimes are accompanied by their reports on him, obtained after a
30-year battle with Wigan Council. A damning indictment of a system that frequently fails young people, this is a heartbreaking and eloquent memoir providing insight into the forces that shaped Sissay into the poet he is today.
EMPERORS OF THE DEEP
Sharks. They are regarded first and foremost as the most iconic predators of the natural world. But William McKeever wants to downplay their reputation as the ultimate killing machines and focus instead on the role they play in “maintaining the health of the world’s oceans”, in the hope that greater appreciation will help protect the creatures and, ultimately, the sea. Reading McKeever’s book, one comes to understand that being an apex predator is like being a custodian of the ocean. Sharks are essential to keeping their ecosystems balanced and maintaining greater biodiversity. As well as travelling as far afield as Cape Cod and Australia to study the animals, McKeever investigates the commercial and recreational fishing industry that kills 100 million of them a year. Like its subject, Emperors Of The Deep is awe-inspiring and terrifying in equal measure, but it’s the carnage inflicted by humans that prompts the greatest terror.
PASSIONATE SPIRIT Cate Haste
Bloomsbury, £12.99 Dying in New York in 1964 at the age of 85, Alma Mahler had not only been married to Gustav Mahler, but also Walter Gropius and after that the less celebrated but still respectably prestigious author Franz Werfel. Growing up in Secession-era Vienna, surrounded by culture and artists from an early age, she was drawn to creative, artistic men, and has often been disparaged as a golddigger or groupie, or more kindly as a muse. Biographer Cate Haste tries to even the score a little, drawing attention to Alma’s abilities as an accomplished pianist, with a particular affinity for Wagner, who wrote her own music – of which, sadly, little survives.
It’s not a complete rehabilitation of this “passionate spirit”. Her ambition, self-absorption, indiscretion and anti-Semitism are all undeniable. But although no angel, she makes a compelling subject for a vibrant biography: a charismatic, indefatigable woman living through an exciting and turbulent era.
SO much radio is just a form of commentary. News reports, phone-ins, football coverage. Sometimes, though, it can be a form of contemplation.
Granda Harry and the Coathanger Horse (Radio 4, Thursday)
was just that, a memoir that was also an act of imagination, one weaving in family history, art and David Bowie. It was radio as texture, a soundscape of voices, music, memory and fantasy.
Harry in this case was Reggie Chamberlain King’s grandfather, a working-class artist from west Belfast who shared a bedroom for the final 13 years of his life with Reggie when his grandson was a boy.
Harry had attended art school in the 1930s, and even painted murals on the SS Canberra, but spent most of his life as a painter and decorator.
Chamberlain King explored his grandfather’s life through the letters he wrote. But the programme also imagined the conversations he never had with his grandad and even conversations between Harry and Bowie, a lovely conceit. Bowie once travelled on the Canberra. Did he see Harry’s murals?
I’m a sucker for Bowie and a sucker for the Northern Irish accent (it’s the sound of childhood, a hug of a thing.) and so I was primed to like this, I admit.
Did it work? Not totally. It painted at best a partial, slightly obscure picture. But the colours it teased out here and there, well, they were fine; a vision of a faded life suddenly flaring up vividly again. Just for a moment.
Listen Out For:
Summer with Greta, BBC World Service, tonight, 7pm. A year in the life of the teenage climate activist.
All the fun of the summer holidays as children play on a mini-roundabout at a Butlins camp