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The Literary Blog of Clare Dudman

Updated: 2016-12-03T05:09:18.220+00:00


Sunday Salon: Being European.


It's five years since I last posted to Sunday Salon.  Somehow, the habit faded away - but having been directed to its Facebook page by its founder, Debra Hamel, I've decided it was high time I renewed my acquaintance.

As usual, I have several books on the go.  An audiobook - Pat Bakers's Life Class,

a Kindle book - Craig Taylor's Londoners

and then Matthew Zajac's The Tailor of Inverness - one of those quaint old-fashioned mixtures of paper, glue and a little glazed card.  The book.   In its original form - and my favoured alternative.

(image) Life Class is the first of a trilogy, and it slightly annoys me that I read the last of the three, Toby's Room, first.  Although I'm sure it doesn't matter very much, I do like to do these things in order.

Pat Barker is an old favourite.  I must have read her Regeneration trilogy twenty years ago - and this Life Class trilogy returns to a similar era: the First World War.  The story follows some young artists as they skirt around the trenches - not actually combatants, in as part of the Red Cross and therefore just as involved in the terror of it all.  I'm looking forward to doing some ironing later today so I can hear some more.  There's a huge pile so I should be happily 'reading' in this way for some time.

The Londoners is a compilation of interviews on the theme of living in the capital.  It makes a good Kindle book - a section just enough to read on my phone in idle moments .

(image) I know London a little.  I lived and studied there in the nineteen eighties.  I loved it then, but that place I knew is different from the place it is now, and it is becoming ever more different from the rest of the country.  This is something that becomes apparent as I read through this book and its excellent choice of interviewees.  The interview I read last night, for instance,  was by a city planning officer.  London will never be finished, he says, because it was never planned.  It grows chaotically like something living, and all a planning officer can hope to do is manage its growth - picking out weeds like a conscientious gardener.  A planned city is a dead city, he says.  I think that's true.

Planning is a form of  bureaucracy.  And bureaucracy tends to create more bureaucracy -  bureaucrats creating more bureaucrats, thereby creating layers within layers.   It is a form of growth, but  unproductive growth - rather like a canker.  A good gardener might snip it out.

The Tailor of Inverness


The Tailor of Inverness was just as good as I thought it would be.  So good, in fact, I'm very glad I bought  the book on sale in the foyer outside before we went in.

I like the intensity of a one person play.  There is little let up for either actor or audience.  In the The Tailor of Inverness there was occasional music, the odd poem, and sometimes a bit of well-chosen video, but mainly it was the talented Matthew Zajac on stage with a violinist.  Sometimes he jumped on a chair, once he twirled a large clothes rail around and around, and once he did around twenty press ups while shouting out his lines - really incredibly energetic.

The set was minimal - the sort I like best because it allows the imagination to work.   There was the tailor's bench, his chair, the clothes rack - and a wall that became something else with clever lighting.  

The play itself was about memory, the tales we choose to tell about ourselves, and the effect of war. There was one point when I realised it felt like the entire audience was holding its breath.  No sweet unwrapping, no fidgeting, no removal of velcro fastenings on boots (as happened immediately behind me the last time I visited the theatre) making it altogether a great theatre experience.  I'm really pleased we took the chance on Hodmandod Senior's cough not interrupting things (it didn't).

Happy St David's Day!


A perfect day.

Maybe not quite the first day of spring, but it's getting warmer..

After killing myself in Ali's spinnin' class, I indulged myself with a bunch of Tesco's daffodils

then returned home to find my friend Debra's book, 'Killing Eratosthenes'  behind the door.

I had the pleasure of reading this in its pre-published state.  It takes what remains of a murder trial recorded in Ancient Greece and converts it into a fascinating narrative.  As usual with Debra's books I learnt a lot about life in fifth century BC Athens, but the book comes with a decidedly twenty-first century innovation: via a link to Debra's Killing Eratosthenes website, it is possible to cast your vote and take a look at the virtual outcome.

To finish my perfect St David's day, I am returning to Wales to see the Tailor of Inverness in Theatr Clwyd.   Looking forward to this.  It's had great reviews and the last time monologue I saw in Thatr Clwyd, Grounded,  it turned out to be one of my all-time favourites.

Happy 2016


To celebrate the new year, I have decided to start a new blog, Real Chester.

Meanwhile, in this place, business will continue much as usual.


In 2015 I got though 90 books.  The last was 'Lives For Sale' by Mark Bostridge, which was a compilation of essays celebrating and justifying the biographers' art.  A very interesting read for me since I am about to embark on more biographical fiction.  



...the inner walls ...slithered along every alleyway, every street, every nook I could find...

until I'd reached its heart.

It's taken a couple of years (so far) but I'm beginning to feel I know my city.

The Walls!


Today, I finished my exploration of the walls (and a large section of the the inside).  
And now onwards into the heart of the city...

The Castle


Earthquakes, hurricanes, witches...

...torturing and traces of the Medieval.  No wonder it took over a month.



Finished Handbridge!  
(took some doing...)

The Lache, Lache Lane and Westminster Park


What there once was  - and is now.  Courage and inspiration.

Hough Green, Curzon Park



Slitheringly upmarket...



A salt marsh.  Trains.  Roads. Sidings.  Remains of a ship yard.  From here we travelled the world.  

Still south of the river.



This being the last part of 'West'.  Only 'South' to go now (and a small matter of 'Centre').

A slow creep around Blacon


...unexpectedly fascinating.

Snail Trails Around Garden Lane


Slitheringly interesting.

Snail Trails around Boughton


This took much longer than I was expecting...

Bridge 121


Rowton Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal near Chester.

The next bridge along is known as the Egg.

Snail Trails Around Hoole


I am getting a lot of exercise researching for my current book-in-progress (hence the lack of blogging).

Here is my walk today - around an adjacent village called Hoole.

Although it is is not a large area, there are a lot of little streets, and I went down most of them.   Thanks to FitBit I can tell I walked approximately 12 miles overall and I took over 280 photos.

I did the purple trail first,

which took me to the start of the trail the erratic meanderings of a hungry mollusc.

The Wonders of the Cheshire Library Stack


There are some very helpful librarians in Chester Central Library.  Since I am researching the history of my home town there is a lot of material on the local shelves, but sometimes I come across a book on the library catalogue that doesn't seem to be there.  The answer, apparently, is that they are retained in 'the stack' - some of this is accessible, and some of it not.  I like the idea of this stack.  I imagine it in the basement of the building nestling amongst Roman pillars and forgotten Medieval paraphernalia.  I think it must be in order though because the librarians come back surprisingly quickly with the book in hand.  Once, a particularly obliging librarian came back with a trolly full.  Literary treasure!

My latest request from the stacks yielded these:

They looked old and they hadn't been out of years, and hadn't held out much hope that they would be particularly entertaining, but they are.  In fact, they are quite fascinating.  Two of them are by Gervas Huxley, cousin to the more famous Aldous and Julian.  They concern a local family called the Grosvenors, and Gervas obviously knew two members of the family well because he has dedicated one of his books to them.  He had access to the diary and letters of Lady Elizabeth Grosvenor - a 19th century member of the family - and through them even dry events like the Great Reform Act become exciting. Lady Elizabeth adored her husband and because he was a member of parliament she became interested in politics too.  She was so interested she even made frequent visits to the 'Ventilator' a small uncomfortable viewing platform above the blazing chandeliers that had been consigned to the ladies (after they had been banished after refusing, with stamps and howls, to be turned out during an important debate of 1878).

The Grosvenors were fabulously wealthy - and still are.  At this time they were also in the centre of power, and so they were involved in the great events of the day - e.g.  the emancipation of slaves, the abolishment of child labour, the suffrage and acceptance of the Catholic church in England and Ireland.  The book also explains how they came by their wealth: the lucrative combination of land acquisition, the canny use of acts of parliament to allow their great swathes of land in central London to be leased out (rather than sold) to ambitious developers and further acquisition with the profits.

But it is their involvement in Chester that I'm interested in - and they were involved a lot.  For two hundred years they represented Chester in parliament with no one able to realistically contest them because the Grosvenors could always upstage any contenders with their generous hospitality during the canvassing and Hustings.  It was a situation that had to change: Lady Elizabeth's husband could see that.  There were signs of unrest and he wisely voted for the Great Reform Act even though it meant that he would lose out.  Interesting times - brought alive by Mr. Huxley's books - and thanks to the Cheshire Library Stack and the helpful librarians I get to read about them.

Bats in the Garden


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A few years ago I bought Hodmandod Senior a bat detector.  We sometimes go around the neighbourhood listening out for them - but last night they came to us (as they often do). They can be identified from the frequency of their clicks (there is an app for this, of course).  Hodmandod Senior identified this as a Pipistrelle - the common sort.

A bat detector reveals a different world: not just bats, but the rustles of all sorts of other animals can be heard as they shift in their sleep.

Box City


I went to LondonBig Ben in the Houses of Parliamentand saw, inside this city of boxes,London Cityscape a city-in-a-box,Imaginary City by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin at Tate Modernand then the remnants of anotherTrading seals from the Indus at the British Museum unimaginably old.Fertility statues from the Ancient Indus at the British MuseumAnd here, I came across another  boxRemaining tower of Christchurch Greyfriars designed by Christopher Wren 1677blown openRemains of the nave of Christchurch Greyfriars - bombed in world War 2with plants instead of pillarsGarden of Christchurch Greyfriarsand inside another boxLift from Selfridge's store now in City of London Museuma box embossed - to deify Retail.Queenhithe - last remaining Anglo-Saxon dock on the Thames in the city of LondonA feckless god, that one, subject to whimsView from Queenhithe to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the Tate Modernand the vagaries of the tide.[...]

An Interview with Debra Hamel to celebrate the launch of 'It was a Dark and Stormy Tweet'


On Monday, Debra Hamel launched her latest book: It was a Dark and Stormy Tweet.  It is both a compilation of tweets and a survey of what makes these particular tweets special, and it makes extraordinarily compelling reading. As part of the launch I suggested to Debra that I interview her about her book and I am delighted to say that she accepted.  The result is below:CD:   What is TwitrLit?  DH:  TwitrLit is a literary site that I created back in April of 2007.  Twice a day, in the morning and evening, I post the first line of a book on TwitrLit. The trick is that I don't identify the book by author or title. I just provide the first sentence of the book's first chapter and a link to the book on Amazon. Readers who are sufficiently intrigued by the line can click through to Amazon to find out what book it's from. The lines appear on my web site,, and also on the site's associated Twitter account, @TwitrLit, which is how most people get my updates.I've now posted more than 5000 lines on TwitrLit. Readers can find them all posted at There are also a number of Random 1st Line-Inators in the sidebar there: click on one and a random line will pop up in a new window. Then click the "see another" link, then click it again.... I find myself doing this more often than I should. It's somehow transfixing having them come at you randomly like that.TwitrLit has also spawned two spin-offs, KidderLit ( and @KidderLit) and ScatterLit ( and @ScatterLit). As its name suggests, KidderLit is a version of TwitrLit that features books for kids, from board books through young adult novels. ScatterLit is a little stranger. Every night I post a line from some book or other on ScatterLit, but it's not the first line of the book. It's a line thathas something to do with, as I put it on the site, "bathrooms or the activities most usually associated with them." Now, that sounds weird, I know. But I'm not trying for disgusting here. Somehow, focusing on one subject (toilets in this case, but I bet any subject would work) and culling lines that refer to that subject results in a fascinating collection of random, intriguing, appealing sentences. Here are the first three lines I just pulled up using my ScatterLit Random 1st Line-Inator ("But in case it takes a while, we might as well have toilet paper.""We forgot about incinerating our excrements.""The bathroom is right behind Jerry, who always liked to face thefront door, for obvious reasons."CD:   In the book you have managed to come up with some classifications e.g. those that are variations on a famous first line - what is your favourite way of starting a book?DH:  It's hard to choose a favorite, but probably the lines that I find most immediately attractive are those that surprise you. This, for example, is the first line of Colin Cotterill's Love Songs from a Shallow Grave:"I celebrate the dawn of my seventy-fourth birthday handcuffed to a lead pipe."How could you not want to read more?There is a certain type of line, however, which I think virtually guarantees that a reader will stick with a book at least for a little while. And that is what I liken to link bait--those cleverly worded links you can't stop yourself from clicking on when you're surfing the web. Here's an example:"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday."That's from John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Again, I say, how could youpossibly put this boo[...]



You would have been 50 today.  A ridiculous thing.  I like to think we would have celebrated with balloons, but we would have probably settled for bluebells.

This morning I heard a poem from the North Korean Poet Laureate Jang Jin-sung which has haunted me since I heard it. It is called 'The Most Delicious Thing in the World'.  It is at the end of this recording.

Walk 2


Vegetation.  There is a lot of it around when you start to notice it.  Small dangling green flowers on the sycamore trees.  Smart-looking new scales on the Monkey Puzzle trees.  Lawns shorn in stripes.
Today I took another way home from the gym through the Parson's Nook and onto Liverpool Road.  There were more of the pinheads I saw yesterday, not just in the walls of houses but the walls of gardens and some too in the pavements.  Why stick a rod through a garden wall?  Why embed one in a pavement?   What would happen if I were to give one of them a slight tweak?  After a few more steps I knew: the scales on the Monkey Puzzle would rattle, the lawns would fold into a concertina and begin to play and the green sycamore buds would burst open, one after the other - each flower a different colour.  While underground, the network of water, gas, telephone fibres pipes would switch.  Gas would surge from taps, water from the speaker of the phone and from the cooker the sound of the internet would rattle from the hob.  I touched one of them and it hummed with power.  I decided to move on.

Walk 1.


I have just read that May is National Walking month.  Today I walked just 8,000 steps, which is relatively few for me just at the moment.  The article talks about writers walking for inspiration,  but it is not just writers who find that walking helps them create - a lot of scientific writers made great discoveries when they walked too. The French mathematician Pioncaré walked to be inspired, and the physicist Leo Szilard famously realised the implication of the nuclear chain reaction when walking across a road in London.

Just recently I have been trying to walk more for another reason.  It has long been bothering me that I drive in order to exercise in the gym.  It seemed ludicrous and wasteful.  So now I walk to the gym. The more often I do this the shorter the distance seems, and other walks to other places become possible so I do them too.  I am surprised at how little extra time I need.  I feel it is time less wasted.  As I walk I notice things.  In fact I believe that it is only by walking that I feel I can truly experience the place I live. I exchange a few words with people I meet.  I notice smells, the way shadows fall on the pavements, the sounds of water flushing mysteriously beneath a stretch of pavement.

Today I walked mainly around a superstore, and then parked deliberately a long way  from the Brewery Tap so I would have to walk to get there.  It was around 9.30pm when I walked back.  On the 'Dark Row' someone was playing music and the space was lit with small white lights.  Frodsham Street, in contrast was dramatically quiet and dark.  In the distance I saw a solitary man approaching.  Before we pass each other underneath the scaffolding of an empty restaurant, he has become a mugger.  I tighten my grip on my folded umbrella.  It is either that or my hand bag.  Maybe I will have time to whip it back and hit him  once and then...we would grab my arm and stop me.  He walks past.  I don't risk eye contact.  Then. just before Cow Lane Bridge, is the Oddfellows Arms.  Three hundred years old.  Happily still occupied and doing business.  Inside an orange-yellow glow of light and the shadows of heads.  On the wall one of those large metal pin-heads marking the end of a structural skewer.  I imagine catching hold of it and turning.  The pub turns and then Quakers' Meeting House, and then the shops behind that.  They rotate, catch and slip, roof on the ground, floor pointing up to the sky, each side basting for a few moments in moonlight.  Inside the people have given up trying to keep upright and laugh as they fall against the settles and bar stools, blaming the ale.

And to think I would have missed all this if I hadn't walked.

Little Poseurs


Thanks to Dave Lull for a link to some amazing pictures of snails by Vyacheslav Mishchenko!  I particularly like the one with the cobweb umbrella.