Showing posts with label Family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Family. Show all posts

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Death in the new normal - by Lu Hersey

We're all used to only seeing people on zoom, or other chat forums. We have no choice. Not in real life.  Work meetings, friend meetings, family groups - if we don't meet virtually, we can't meet at all. Sometimes it's a good thing - we don't have to travel miles, and ironically we can attend more events in far flung geographical locations than we possibly could in reality. It saves time and money. It's become the new normal. It's been a year already and despite the fantastic vaccine roll out, there's still no real end in sight.

Zoom isn't so bad most of the time. Introverted writers sometimes relish not having to be sociable. Those events you know you'd have had to attend, but you can't. Because rules. 

But at other times, you desperately WANT to be there. For me, it really hit home at my cousin's funeral. We'd had a long facebook chat the day before she died, while she was in hospital with Covid, getting oxygen, wired up to various drips. She was in good spirits despite the breathlessness and pain. We talked of summer and going to the beach. Of families. Of the past. 

The next morning, one of her sons (who's nearly my age) messaged to say she had passed. I was shocked and very upset - she'd seemed so feisty, so upbeat, less than 12 hours earlier. And of course I couldn't go to the funeral in lockdown. 

That's when I found out it's not just writer conferences and online learning platforms that can be viewed virtually. Funerals can be too. With so many deaths from Covid, it's standard practice, everything arranged by the funeral directors so you can be there, and yet not be there. 

If you've watched a funeral recently, you'll know how it goes. The master of ceremonies (funeral director, priest, whoever is leading the service), who almost certainly didn't know the deceased, introduces the order of service. Unlike the immediate family who are actually present in the room, they're aware of the camera and the remote viewers and make every effort to include you, even if you can't be seen and can't say anything. In fact, they have no idea who you are, or whether you're there or not. 

Funerals are no fun, and this was no exception. I watched most of it through a wall of tears...yet there was that other part of me that found it really interesting to be an observer and not being able to interact. What is it about the writer brain? Why was some other part of my mind thinking of all the possibilities of including online funerals in a novel? It's as though I'd become detached from reality, watching TV... but the players were people I know in real life, even if I haven't seen them in years. 

There's something very strange about observing a large family gathering when no one's aware you're watching them. I mean, you can really stare without being rude (though only from one point of view because the camera doesn't move) - you can marvel that someone you last saw when they were 14 is now over 50 and balding. Where did the time go? And your sweet little second cousin, who you'd swear was only about ten - somehow has four grown up children with her. Another second cousin, so very like his mother - keeping an eye on everyone to make sure they're okay, lifting his mask to mouth I love you to his sister when she found it hard to give her speech, so caring for everyone - yet I know he was devastated, and still only just recovering from covid himself.

My father had written a letter of condolence to the family which was read out at the service, and I'd sent him the link before the funeral so he could watch if wished. Being 93, he's a bit forgetful, and called me the day after the funeral to ask when the service was starting. That's when I found out you can actually watch the service online as many times you like (once was enough for me, but a fictional YA goth character could watch on tape-loop... I felt bad even thinking that, but on the plus side, I know my cousin would have thought it was hilarious...)

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I got to be present in some way at her funeral. And I cried buckets. But the virtual experience, however interesting to the writer brain, doesn't begin to compensate for reality. There was no chance to hug people, talk to them (however awkwardly), try to comfort them. I just wanted to be there. 

Sod the new normal. I want normal back. To be able to repeat Victoria Wood's immortal lines at the wake. '72 baps, Connie. You slice, I'll spread.' My cousin would have loved that.

Lu Hersey

twitter: @LuWrites

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Getting Rid of Mum: Books With Single Parent Dads in Children's Fiction - Emma Barnes

I wasn't sure why I created a family without a mother when I wrote Wild Thing. I've nothing against mothers. I've a very nice one of my own. Many of my best friends are mothers. Not to put too fine a point on it, I AM a mother. It wasn't something I thought about at the time. Kate and Wild Thing just didn't happen to have a mum. They had a dad looking after them instead.
interior from Wild Thing Gets A Dog - copyright Jamie Littler

I think a lot of the reasons writers choose something are unconscious. Afterwards, bringing a more deliberate analysis to bear, the reasons become clearer. So now I've no doubt that the reason I got rid of Kate and Wild Thing's mother was because I wanted as much mayhem as possible. I planned these to be funny, chaotic books. Although I hate to admit it, I suspect that's easier without Mum.

Single Parent Families featuring Dad have a lot of advantages to a writer. Somehow, it seems entirely natural for dad to be fun and quirky, to be a lousy cook, and to forget about things like the start of term, or a child's need for new socks. Of course, mothers are quite capable of forgetting these things too. (Well, I am.) But it strains the credulity of a reader more. (Or it's just harder as a writer to break that “responsible, boring Mum,” stereotype.) So maybe writing about a Single Dad is the best way of writing about the chaos and mishaps which are, if truth be told, absolutely normal in all families everywhere.

Here are some children's books featuring single dads.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Danny adores his dad, and together they have crazy adventures – would a fictional mother have been allowed to be so irresponsible, and yet so loveable?

The Summer House Loon by Anne Fine

Ione's dad Professor Muffett is an absent-minded academic, preoccupied with his research into “Early Sardinian trade routes”. He is also blind. An entirely sympathetic character, it is not surprising that a certain amount of chaos flourishes in their household in this witty, sophisticated book. A really fun read for a certain kind of teenager – the kind that doesn't want angst, but some comedy instead.

The Penderwicks  by Jeanne Birdsall

Another absent-minded professor, Mr Penderwick is left to bring up his four daughters when his wife dies, in a book which is a bit like a more modern version of Little Women, but with a dad replacing “Marmee”.

Rooftoppers by Katharine Randell

This prize-winning book features...another academic single dad. (Hmm, beginning to detect a bit of a trend.)   Charles is the foster father to Sophie, who is an orphan from a shipwreck. He is absent-minded and eccentric and he and Sophie eat off books rather than plates, their bizarre house-keeping getting them into trouble with social services. It's rather whimsical but also very appealing.

The Longest Whale Song by Jacqueline Wilson

And can rely on Jacqueline Wilson to be a bit more down-to-earth, and although she's written several books with single dads, I don't think any of them are absent-minded academics. What is especially nice about this one, is that it features the relationship between a girl and her stepfather, forced to work as a team when the mother enters a dangerous coma after her baby's birth. Ella's stepfather is far kinder and more responsible than her biological father, and once again Wilson shows that a successful family can come in all shapes and sizes.

Please tell me your favourite single dad stories...with or without absent-minded professors.


Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

Emma's Wild Thing series for 8+ about the naughtiest little sister ever. (Illustrated by Jamie Littler)
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods...
(Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark)
"Funny, clever and satisfying..." Books for Keeps

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Muse as Moloch - Cathy Butler

“I met Peter Pan when I was young,” my mother confided to me the other day.

On further enquiry it turned out that she was referring to the publisher Peter Davies, who had published a memoir she’d been hired to ghost-write as a young woman (yes, that kind of thing happened in the 1940s too). Earlier in the century, as Peter Llewelyn-Davies, he had been the middle of the five Llewelyn-Davies brothers who collectively inspired J. M . Barrie’s most famous creation. (“I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame,” Barrie later wrote.) Perhaps because of the name, however, Peter Davies was particularly dogged by the association in the public mind, and found it oppressive. Even when he eventually committed suicide in 1960 by throwing himself in front of a train, the newspapers referred to him as “Peter Pan”.

There is a tragic roll-call of classic children’s books whose authors’ children (adoptive in Barrie’s case) led blighted or violently foreshortened lives. Some forty years before Peter Davies’s death his younger brother Michael – another of the “five” – died by drowning, possibly in a suicide pact, aged just twenty. Alastair Grahame, for whom his father Kenneth wrote The Wind in the Willows, was even younger when he lay down on a railway track to await the train that would decapitate him. The role (if any) of the books in those deaths will never be known, but there is no doubt that Christopher Milne found his immortalization as Christopher Robin in Winnie-the-Pooh a burden through much of his life, recording his resentment that A. A. Milne “had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.”

I was reminded of these unhappy cases a few days ago, when I heard John Wilson interview Hanif Kureishi on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Wilson mentioned that Kureishi had sometimes drawn on his own family for inspiration in his novels, not least in The Buddha of Suburbia, a book that caused Kureishi’s father to feel (by his sister’s account) that “Hanif had robbed him of his dignity.” The tone of hurt betrayal is strikingly similar to Milne’s, but Kureishi Senior was at least an adult and to that extent better able to defend himself. What of Kureishi’s children?

JW: How do your sons feel about it? There are sketches here, we get a sense of who they are in a couple of these stories. Do they mind being written about?

HK: I would advise them to keep out of a writer’s way if you don’t want to be in a book.

JW: That’s pretty hard when the writer is their own dad!

HK: That’s tough. I mean, that’s something that they have to live with. You’d have to ask them about it. Writers are rather merciless. You see it with painters too. There’s something really ruthless about a real artist. Virtue is the worst quality in any artist.

Personally I find the implication that artists – sorry, real artists – somehow get a pass when it comes to treating people decently rather contemptible, and doubly so in the case of vulnerable people whom they have a particular duty to protect. On the other hand, it’s true that writers tend to pick up material from all over the place, magpie-fashion, and the people whom they know best and see most are unlikely to be exempt. Cyril Connolly famously asserted that “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” but I’m sure some children’s authors especially have looked at that pram and thought, however involuntarily: “Source material!” Most parents feel a mixture of pride and regret at seeing their children grow up, but children’s writers are likely to feel in addition a slight panic at being cut off from a free source of information about teenage slang and preoccupations. This does not put them in the same bracket as Kureishi, and for the record I should make clear that many children of writers have, with professional help, been successfully integrated into mainstream society and gone on to lead happy and fulfilled lives. But still, but still, how do you deal with that omniverous writerly appetite when it comes to the ones you love? Are there ground rules? No-go areas? What’s your way of squaring the family circle?

Monday, 11 May 2015

"Mamma's Kindness to Me" - Cathy Butler

The Author of "Mamma's Kindness to Me"
at an even more tender age
Every generation of my family includes at least one obsessive archivist (in common parlance, hoarder). My great-great-grandfather, for example, who worked for the British Museum all his adult life, effectively made hoarding his profession. He was a fascinating man, but may go down in one of history’s minor footnotes as the official who diddled Alfred Russel Wallace out of sixpence just as Wallace was getting over by being gazumped by Charles Darwin. My grandfather, big in the Esperanto movement, had so many Esperanto books in his not-very-big house that they later became the basis of the Esperanto Society’s own library. We might say that both these gentlemen hoarded to some purpose. But their retentive habits mean that some items other families would certainly have thrown away at an early date have survived, and come down to me (for yes, I have been officially named as Hoarder Designate for my generation).

Here’s a good example. Lots of children make little books, with illustrations, for their own amusement or that of their parents. Some, perhaps, even dream of growing up to be authors (cough cough), but the things they write at the age of six are unlikely to be of publishable quality, and though they may be kept long enough for their parents to embarrass them by showing them to future boyfriends or girlfriends they are unlikely to be handed reverently down the generations. They’ll be lost in moves, or discreetly binned, or simply fall to pieces, long before that happens.

Not so with my family. Here then is a volume penned by my grandfather in a pocket account book, circa 1890: Mammas’s Kindness to Me by M. C. Butler, author of Little Things to Read on Sundays. Evidently this was not his first production, and like any good author he hopes to pique his readers’ interest by reminding them of past literary triumphs.

This is followed by several pages of closely argued prose extolling Mamma’s many virtues, which include her assiduity in providing religious instruction and her financial generosity: “One of the things is, she gives me lessons, and each time she gives me halfpennies, or even pennies when I do my lessons very nicely, although she has not half the money I have.”

Money is a recurrent theme: my great-grandfather was a curate, and the family had come down in the world somewhat. Mamma not only makes and mends young Montagu Christie’s clothes: “She nurses and heals me and pays a very great deal of money for the doctor to come and make me well, I am sure!”

Eventually our author begins to run out of steam. The last refuge of the writer who's running out of things to say? Make a list! Note the subtle legerdemain of "4. Feeding me; 5. Reading to me; 25. Twenty other things."

We are now beginning to wish we hadn't made the book quite so long...

Oh, what a perfunctory postcript for Papa!

What especially intrigues me about this book is its combination of strangeness and familiarity. The language is quaint and the religiosity unfamiliar to most British people today. But the urge to make little books is one I recognize, as well as some of the shifts used to bring them to a hasty conclusion once the well of inspiration has run dry. The pictures are particularly interesting, since they are so exactly like the pictures drawn by children of that age today, and probably every other day. I’m no psychologist, but I find it startling to see the same blobs and blocks that loomed from my own children’s early efforts mirrored here in their great-grandfather’s drawings of more than a century earlier, differentiated only by Mamma's full skirts and a few late-Victorian props: a piano; a medicine bottle; and, of course, a sampler reading “Jesus Wept”.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Italy -Images, scents, stray bits of conversation - Linda Strachan

When I am writing everywhere I go, everyone I meet and everything I hear someone say has the potential to feed into my story, particularly when it is a place removed from my everyday life and experiences.  When I travel I find images, scents, stray bits of conversation take seed and create stories of their own.

I've just returned from a week in the south of Italy where I visited family many times as a child, and over the years since but I'd not been there for a few years. 
I have returned, my head full of all the different characters and situations I encountered, conversations, tastes and sounds.

I was staying with family and that meant I was not a tourist, just skimming the surface and seeing the tourist sights.  I chatted to two different couples at the airport one the way there and the other on the way back. Both couples were on holiday to Rome to enjoy the Italy of the holiday brochures and I was aware of how different their experiences and perceptions of Italy, and the Italians, are to mine. 

I, too, enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and scenery and of course the wonderful food - a very important part of life there. I also fed my creative brain on the differences in culture, the language and particularly the use of language - the ways that expressions change from one language to another and where direct translations can be quite humorous. 

But for me there were also the discussions that happen in families and amongst friends and acquaintances about everything from Italian politics, the economy, the corruption and their perceptions of world affairs, to the moans about day to day life and memories of family who have now sadly passed away.   

I often find it frustrating as a wordsmith when I do not have quite the facility with words that I am used to in English - my Italian is conversational and my vocabulary is not really as extensive as I would wish. But thankfully, it was adequate to join in conversations and to understand most of what was being discussed, except at times when the speaker's language was thick with dialect!

I was able to spend time writing beside a cosy log fire  - it is January after all - although to me it was like a Scottish spring, bright and sunny most days with a bit of a chill in the air, but most people there thought it was very cold!

I met some people who will make colourful characters, some so 'colourful' that they and their view of life may seem hardly credible to most people. Those are the most interesting to store away for future use.

I had a horse riding lesson and I learned even more when I acted as translator for someone who only spoke English and came for a riding lesson. I found out a lot about looking after horses, too. As far as I am concerned nothing is wasted because basically everything is research! 

This is Michela.
A delightful character who was hand-reared when her mother died giving birth to her.  She appeared to have an opinion about almost everything, if only I could speak Donkey! I am sure she deserves a story of her own.

When chatting to an old aunt, I was told forcefully several times not to forget that she expected me to write the story of her and her siblings and parents, so that the future generations would not forget them all. I suppose that is the wish of many older people who see their own time and family becoming part of a forgotten past as the new generations appear. By the time the younger ones are old enough to ask questions so much is often lost and forgotten. It will be interesting to write something about the family members like my aunt and her parents, just for the family, to record these people and their lives. 

Back home now I am distilling my thoughts and memories, images and ideas.  I managed to get quite a bit of writing done while I was away and now I am keen to get back to the book again.  My head is full of memories of crisp blue skies, lovely food and strong coffee, as well as stray thoughts in Italian, as my brain tries to switch gear back to English! 

Travel, as has been often said, broadens the mind and it creates great images and ideas to feed the soul and the creative mind.  
So now it is time to get back to my desk and use all that inspiration!

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children  

She has written 10 Hamish McHaggis books illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  

Linda  is  Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh 

blog:  Bookwords 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Let’s Get This Out There…Liz Kessler

Last month, two things happened to make me realise how much the world has changed. The first was that I got married.

Why would that make me think the world has changed? Well, because I married a woman.

OK, officially, I got Civil Partnered. What I actually did was stand up in front of a room full of my beloved friends and family and make a legally binding commitment to my partner of six years. So, yeah, I married a woman.

Twenty two years ago, I went to my brother’s wedding. It was a beautiful and emotional day. I remember looking round at everyone in the room and feeling overwhelmed by the love and support for my brother and his new wife, and I remember being so happy for them. And then I remember having a fleeting feeling of sadness as I realised that I would never have that. It never occurred to me that one day it might be possible. And last month, I proved my younger self wrong as I found myself at the centre of a room of my favourite people and felt wrapped up in love and happiness as two families became one.

The second thing that happened last month that made me realise how much the world has changed was that my publisher offered me a new contract. A very special new contract, and one that is close to my heart – especially this year. It is for a book that I wrote over ten years ago and which has waited patiently for its time to come. The novel is about a teenage girl learning about love and life – and coming out as gay. Ten years ago, none of us could really see how we could publish this book. It felt like a risk in all sorts of ways and my publisher, my agent and I were all happy to put it to one side and get on with writing and publishing all the other books that I’ve worked on since then.

But in the last couple of years, all sorts of things have made me start thinking again about this book. Incidents of gay youngsters committing suicide after unbearable bullying hit the news in the states. Violence against gay people increased in Russia after anti-gay laws were passed.

Amongst the campaigning against homophobic bullying, a wonderful song was released last year by a group called the L Project which I played over and over again. It’s called It Does Get Better and ever since I heard the song, I knew that I wanted to be part of a movement that was telling young people that it didn’t matter who or what they were. They were OK and they would get through it.

So I looked at my book again. I dusted it down, polished it up and sent it back to my agent. This time, when she sent it on to my publisher, the answer came back very quickly. ‘Times have changed, and we are ready to move with them,’ was the reply. My publisher not only wanted the book but the whole team was ready to support it, celebrate it and get it out into the world with enthusiasm.

Read Me Like A Book will be published in the spring of 2015 – and I can’t wait. It’s been a long time coming and, in many ways, it is the most important book I’ve written. But I’m also quite nervous of what this might mean for me, personally as well as professionally and commercially. I write books that are mostly read by girls aged between eight and fourteen. I like to think that my books have strong underlying messages about family and friendship and love and loyalty. These things are close to my heart and judging by some of the letters and emails I get, they are close to the hearts of many of my readers and their parents, too. But people sometimes have different ideas about what they mean by these values, and publishing such a different book could possibly create difficulties for me. Maybe it won’t – I have no way of knowing.

But in the year that my partner had very serious major surgery that made both of us think about the fragility of life, and the year that I took a legally binding vow to love, cherish, honour, respect and be faithful to her, I think that it’s time for me to stop letting fear dictate what I am prepared to do publicly. And it’s time for me to tell anyone who needs to hear it, for whatever reason, that it is OK to love whoever you love.

After all, if Ashleigh, the seventeen-year-old main character of my new book can do it, then it’s about time I did, too.

Follow Liz on Twitter
Check out Liz's Website

Find out more about the L Project and their work here
Watch the video of It Does Get Better
All photographs by Mark Noall. Check out his website here

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Choosing Your Battles - Joan Lennon

 It's been exciting, the Olympics - it really has.  All those amazing human bodies everywhere you look, doing all those amazing things.  But it's important to remember that not all competition is good for us.  Let me tell you a story ... 

Here’s how it is.  I have an older sister.  This is not unusual.  Many people do.  And many people find their older sisters irritating.  But no one has an older sister who is as irritating as mine.
            Because mine has done everything.
            Let me give you an example of how irritating this can be.
            When I was about to go to university, my sister came into my room and handed me a nice, leather-bound notebook.
            “This is for you,” she said.
            “Oh, thanks!  Is it a journal, for me to write my experiences with boys and men in?”
            “No.  It’s a journal in which I’ve written my experiences with boys and men.  Read it carefully, and you won’t have to make the same mistakes I did.”
            “Oh.  Well, what makes you think I won’t make my own, new mistakes?!”
            My sister just smiled.  “I think you’ll find I’ve already made them all.”
            Well, I wasn’t having that.  I went off to university and set out to make all the mistakes my sister hadn’t.
            I thought, I’ll date my professors – I’ll date my room-mate’s brother – I’ll date the entire football team – I’ll date the janitor … but when I checked, I found that every bad idea I came up with had an entry in my sister’s journal already.
            It was when I saw the sign called for recruits for the newly-formed Scottish Historical Re-enactment Group that I realised I’d cracked it!
            This she hadn’t done, I was sure!
            It turned out the Group consisted of two boys – Trevor (the president) and Greg (the co-president).  They were wearing Braveheart wigs and cardboard swords.
            “We don’t get a lot of girls,” said Trevor.
            “You don’t get any girls,” said Greg.
            “Yuckedy yuck.  Look who’s talking.”
            “At least I’ve had a date!”
            “Snogging my cousin when she was unconscious doesn’t count as a date!”
            Wow! I thought.  This has got to be the best mistake EVER – my sister won’t be able to hold a candle to this!
            “Anywho,” said Trevor.  “We’d better get started.  As you know, Historical Re-enactment Groups strive for absolute accuracy.  To that end, we will be performing the Battle of Bannockbuns wearing nothing but our tattoos.”
            “What?!” I said.
            “In the historical nuddy.  You, too, of course, Miss.  But don’t worry, it’s not as if we’ll be really naked.  Greg and I have painted ourselves with blue runic letters, just to make it decent, and we’d be more than happy to do the same for you, wouldn’t we, Greg?  Greg?”
            The co-president’s eyes had glazed over in a worrying fashion.
            “Never mind him,” said Trevor.  “Here, let me show you mine …” 
            As the president of the Scottish Historical Re-enactment Group began to strip off, I beat a hasty retreat …
            I phoned my older sister as soon as I got in, and told her about my experience.  I waited for her to say, “Well!  Now that’s something that never happened to me!” but I waited in vain.
            “Oh yeah.  I did that,” came her voice, as smug and superior as ever.  “I think you’ll find some pretty clear advice on the whole re-enactment thing, round about page 87.  Look it up.  Bye!”
            No way, I thought to myself.  No bloody way.  She’s bluffing.  She has to be!  But she wasn’t.  When I turned to page 87, there it was, my older sister’s warning, staring up at me in big, black, undeniable words:

There are some competitions you are never going to win, and sometimes even taking part is a bad idea.  Choose your battles, my friends.  Choose your battles.

Visit Joan's website.
Visit Joan's blog.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Batmitzvahs, Books and Beards - Liz Kessler

I attended three celebrations last week. The first was the 20-year anniversary of Orion publishing; the second was The Book People’s celebration of children’s books; and the third was my niece’s batmitzvah.

On the face of it, these events were all quite different. The first was about the dinosaur in the middle of the room (which we all hoped was in no way symbolic), the meeting up with friends and fellow authors, and the trying (and utterly failing) to say ‘no thank you,’ when asked if I would like my champagne glass topping up.

The not at all symbolic dinosaur

The second was mostly about being in awe of the amount of talent in the room, the collective wisdom, the inspiring speeches - and the Jamie-Oliver-designed cocktails. Oh, and the fact that I was out in a dress for the second time in a week. A fact which has not occurred since I was thirteen, so I'll 'treat' you to a pic, otherwise you might not believe it actually happened.

Yes, it's me in a dress

And the third. Well, the third was the point when I realised what the first two were really about.

As I sat in the synagogue, listening to my youngest niece singing – beautifully – her allotted portion of the Torah, and trying not to cry, as I wasn’t sure my mascara was waterproof, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I’m not religious – AT ALL – so at first, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was feeling. But as I looked around me, at the packed synagogue, at the family members greeting each other as they came in, at the strangers turning to face those who had recently lost loved ones during the Kaddish, at the children plaiting the tassles on their father’s tallis, I realised what it was about – what it was all about.

It’s about community. It’s about being part of something with other people. And something that is in constant flux, like a river that we are all being swept along together.

As Katie continued to sing, it occurred to me that we were at the point where this river was ending, and would soon flow into another. The sixth and youngest of her generation, hers would be the last of these occasions for many years. The next bat- or bar- mitzvah in our family would be for the child of one of these six.

Once I’d made this connection, the mascara didn’t stand a chance. And as I looked at my older nieces, standing with their boyfriends who all suddenly seemed to look like grown men, with their suits and their beards, I realised that this day might not be such a long time coming.

One of the nieces, with two of the bearded boyfriends
When the Rabbi blessed Katie at the end of the service, his words took me back to my own childhood. The ‘Cheder’ or Saturday School, where my strongest memories were not of any religious teaching but of the times we sang happy birthday to someone, or played hide and seek behind the beautifully stained windows. And I realised how seamlessly the past flows into the present and catches us out when it gets there. Glancing again at my nieces and their beard-clad boyfriends, it occurred to me that before I know it, the present will already have flowed on into the future.

And then I was reminded of the book-related celebrations earlier in the week, and how those were about community and flow as well.

Just as Katie’s singing held the moment between this generation and the next, the two earlier events marked a pivotal moment in the world of books. As Orion Chief Executive Peter Roche said in his speech, 'The world of the written word has experienced its biggest transformation since the invention of the printing press'.

E-books have brought new challenges to everyone in the world of publishing. But as well as the fears that all of us must have, if we approach the situation in the right way, it has also opened up new possibilities. The 'right way' will be different for all of us. It might mean having a publisher who is forward-thinking, proactive and creative enough to thoroughly embrace e-books without deserting the world of paper and bookshops. A tricky balance.

Or it might mean having a serious go at self-publishing. Many are seizing the opportunity to publish or re-publish their own books. For some, this is a bold and exciting step forward. For others it may be a last resort. Either way, some authors are beginning to do very well from it.

Whichever way we face these new challenges, I believe we need community. Whether that means a loyal and monogamous relationship with a publisher, or a team of fellow authors setting out on an e-publishing (or blogging!) venture together - or any number of other possibilities - my point is that, as we travel from one era of publishing to the next, we need each other.

As with family, there will be squabbles – and possibly even divorces – along the way. But if I think now of my niece singing, my brother looking proudly on, and the warmth of their friends and family all around them; if I think of the chief executive of my publishing company telling his authors, 'Our future is in your words,' and if I think of the fact that, whilst I was with my family, thirty children’s authors were spending a weekend together in a hotel in Peterborough, sharing ideas and inspiration – that’s when I know that, wherever these rivers take us, our best chance of successfully navigating the waters is by joining up with others to share a raft.

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