Short story collection: Remember me to the Bees by Judy Darley

AliBwebAli Bacon reviews a new short story collection

I sometimes think short story collections are like boxes of chocolates I always enjoy the first couple but I’m quickly sated and often end up by not getting to the end  (well okay that rarely happens with chocolates, but you get the picture!)  I think it’s particularly true of collections by one author because however much I like the style, it always palls after a while in a way that doesn’t happen for me with a novel.

RememberMeToTheBeescoverAnyway, I’m happy to say that Remember me to the Bees by Bristol writer Judy Darley has broken the chocolate-box rule. Finding myself between novels I’ve been dipping in and out over a number of evenings (and in waiting rooms and on buses) and have been happy every time to go back for extra helpings. Although there is a broad similarity in the themes (broken marriages, missing parents, generally things lost and  broken) the stories are remarkably varied in tone and subject matter. Those that involve children and young people (The Big Clean, The Beast, Chrysalis, Rabbit Hunt – come to think of it, the majority!) are particularly engaging without showing too much sentimentality. There is usually a strong narrative element (plots and subplots!) so it comes as no surprise that the author is now writing a novel. But the most striking thing about the writing is the fabulous use of language. Bees fuss, peaches have furry scalps (brilliant!) and a bonfire makes a ginger stain. This is what makes these stories immediate, distinctive and memorable. 

Just one quibble. This book is very pretty to look at with lovely illustrations by Louise Boulter BUT for me the typeface was too spidery and I couldn’t see the point of centred paragraphs throughout. When it comes to typography and layout, readability is all. Having said that, I was not dissuaded from reading on, which just goes to show how good these stories are. 

Judy DarleyJudy is having a launch party next Monday (March 31st) in Bristol and I’ll be there to wish her all the very best with this great collection. Judy has been posting extracts from the book on her website http://www.skylightrain.com/  or you can contact her on Twitter @EssentialWriter

Remember me to the Bees can be ordered here
http://www.tangentbooks.co.uk/products/Remember-Me-To-The-Bees.html

Bury me in a Book

Jean Burnett wonders if she can survive the onslaught of technology.

“But how can I live here without my books?” Wrote Balthazar Bonifacius Rhodiginus in 1656. ” I really seem to myself crippled and only half myself.”

Any book lover will empathize with poor Balthazar. I vividly recall my feelings of woe when my home was in storage for over a year and I roamed around leaving a trail of borrowed or hastily purchased paperbacks.  

There is a wonderful man in Colombia, a former librarian, who travels around the mountainous (and dangerous) areas of his country with two donkeys (Alfa and Beto) carrying sacks of books to give to children in remote villages who might otherwise never own one. The Biblioburro – the donkey library – is a splendid idea that might eventually be copied by the intrepid volunteers in Oxfordshire who are keeping open the branch libraries which the local authority wanted to close en masse.

I read that during the Second World war some women were employed to take books around more remote parts of the UK by various means. I wonder if they used donkeys – and was this the start of the mobile library idea?

We know that books do furnish a room but more importantly they furnish the mind, particularly of the young. Worryingly, levels of literacy are dropping in this country as electronic gadgets take over the world. Perhaps the government should provide every child with a kindle primed with 48,000 books and see what happens.

Some library-deprived rural areas have adapted obsolete red telephone boxes (which can be bought for a song from Royal Mail), and are using them as book exchanges. These charmingly low tech ideas will probably not suit future generations whose reading habits will be very different from our own. The idea of burying yourself in a book will have been taken literally.

At MIT in the USA scientists have developed a ‘wearable’ book- over there kindles are so passe’ You wear a vest connected to the book and sensors enable you to experience every emotion described on the page, every vibration and physical effect from despair to being struck by lightning.

I once commented playfully that soon we will be able to have books sprayed on our eyeballs so that we won’t need to turn a page. My ten year old grandson – a SF enthusiast tells me that such software is indeed available in California, “but it costs a lot.” I am not sure that I could stand the excitement of a wearable book. What will happen to imagination? Will it disappear from our cerebral cortex in the next decade, or in two centuries? Cutting down trees to make paper and, eventually books, is already regarded as reprehensible by many young people.

I feel a headache coming on. I think I’ll lie down with a book rather than wearing one.

Bristol Tbilisi evening – writing and partying Georgia style

The Girl KingOn Friday there’s a chance to celebrate Bristol’s Tbilisi connection and hear from Meg Clothier, journalist and author of The Girl King, a novel about Queen Tamar of Georgia.

Meg will  be at Foyles on Friday March 7th (6pm start) discussing her book with our own  Jean Burnett who is a long-time member of the Bristol Tbilisi Twinning Association  and has visited Georgia herself.

‘Georgia is a wonderful country,’ says Jean, ‘and they throw terrific parties!’

Tickets will be £3 for BTA members and £4 for friends and guests. This will include Georgian snacks and wine and a book signing with an opportunity to purchase “The Girl King”. Ticket Reservations are available directly from Foyles on bristolevents@foyles.co.uk and put “Meg Clothier RSVP” in the subject line. Payment for tickets will be taken on the night.

Meg ClothierMeg Clothier studied Classics at Cambridge, spent a year sailing a yacht from England to Alaska, then – after a few false starts – became a journalist. Her last job was working for Reuters in their Moscow bureau before coming back to London to study for a masters degree in post-Soviet politics. Meg lives in London with her husband and two children.