The shap­ing of a poet

The Herald - The Herald Magazine - - Arts - Wil­liam Mc­K­eever

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

Dara McAnulty

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

Canongate, £9.99

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

HarperOne, £9.99

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.

ALAS­TAIR MABBOTT

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.

TEDDY JAMIESON

All the fun of the sum­mer hol­i­days as chil­dren play on a mini-round­about at a But­lins camp

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