On Saturday 23rd February, Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM will be hosting a live poetry special. I’d like to invite poets and spoken word performers to come along and perform their work on the show.
The Hannah’s Bookshelf Live Poetry Special will be going out live from the studio in Harpurhey, North Manchester at 2-4pm. It will be broadcast on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and online (for the rest of the world). Performance slots are 6 minutes long.
Whether you’re a veteran performer or new to reading your work, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line via the Contact page, tweet me or message me on Facebook if you’d like to perform. Slots will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.
Tune in to North Manchester FM on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History. This week, I’m going to be talking Failsworth.
Now, whenever Failsworth comes up on the show, I usually give a disclaimer that, although it’s not in North Manchester, Failsworth is the next-door neighbour. On today’s show, I thought I’d tackle a bit of a tricky question… why isn’t Failsworth in North Manchester? Looking back over a century and a half of Failsworth’s history, I’m exploring the relationship between Failsworth, Manchester and Oldham (and, weirdly, Preston), in a story that takes in Poor Laws, Acts of Parliament, electric trams and sewage. I’ll be revealing more about this interesting chapter in our local history (and local identity) on this week’s show!
In addition to this little trip to Failsworth, I’ll also be taking my usual look through Yesterday’s Papers on the show.
Catch A Helping of History on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Jaki is an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction. Her play Leopoldville won the 2010 Papatango Prize for New Writing, and her most recent play, The Naturalists, has just premiered in New York to rave reviews: ‘Best Bet’ International Theatre, Theatre is Easy; ‘Impeccable, a gift to its actors’ New York Times; ‘Beautifully performed’ The New Yorker. The play was staged by The Pond Theatre Company at the Soho Repertory Theatre, NY. Her play Belfast Girls was developed at the National Theatre Studio, London, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. It premiered in the US in Chicago to much critical acclaim and has since been staged widely internationally and will premiere in Australia this year.
Jaki’s short story, ‘The Visit’, won the 2010 Wasafiri Short Fiction Prize and her story collection, The Scattering, was published by Seren Books and was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. Jaki, who was longlisted in 2014 for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate, is currently editing her first novel.
I’ll be talking to Jaki about her plays, short stories and collection. And, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.
Catch the show on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Isabelle Kenyon is northern, a poet and the author of This is not a Spectacle, The Trees Whispered (Origami Poetry Press) and Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, New York). She is the editor of Fly on the Wall Press, a socially conscious small press for chapbooks and anthologies. The anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, which raises money for UK mental health charity Mind came runner up for Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards in 2018.
Her poems have been published in poetry anthologies such as Verve Poetry Press and The Road To Clevedon Pier (Hedgehog Poetry Press). She has had poems published in literary journals such as Wordsmith HQ, Mojave Heart Review, The Blue Nib and more. She has headlined at Cafe Del Nino’s spoken word night, Cannock, and has opened Coventry Cathedral’s Plum Line Festival.
I’ll be talking to Isabelle about poetry, her writing and Fly on the Wall Press. And, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books (our first trip to the Library at the End of Days in 2019!).
Catch the show on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Join me on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History on North Manchester FM. This week, I’m going to be talking about some early twentieth-century Corporation housing in Blackley.
Inspired by a conversation with my dad about the post-war prefabs in Heaton Park, I got to thinking about Corporation housing in Higher Blackley. ‘Council housing’ is something we usually associate with the post-war years, but Manchester Corporation was building ‘workers’ homes’ way before 1945. And a lot of it was in Higher Blackley. On today’s show, I’m going to be talking about one of the early Corporation estates in Blackley, the area around Victoria Avenue and the ‘model cottages’ constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century. I’ll also be discussing some of the ambitions (and problems) of this estate in the years 1901-1914.
In addition to this, I’ll also be taking my regular look through Yesterday’s Papers. The Who Am I? quiz is currently on hiatus, but I’ll be sharing some of my plans for A Helping of History in the coming year.
Catch the show on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
2018 was the first full year of A Helping of History, my local history show on North Manchester FM. I’ve told stories of North Manchester’s past, welcomed some brill guests to the studio, and been taken ‘on location’ at some of North Manchester’s landmarks. I’ve also done my weekly read of Yesterday’s Papers, and featured tons of iconic local buildings in the Who Am I? quiz. Below is a round-up of everything that happened this year on the show, but I’d like to say a big thanks to North Manchester FM for continuing to let me haunt their airwaves and to Rob Shedwick (aka Digital Front) for being my unofficial producer on the show.
January started with a show about the unusual double life of a one-time Hollinwood publican – Albert Pierrepoint. Pierrepoint had the Help the Poor Struggler Pub in Hollinwood, while also working as a hangman. I followed this with a show about George Augustus Lee, who lived in Cheetham Hill and became the first factory owner to introduce gas lighting to his mill. Surprisingly – and topical, given the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein this month – I found an unexpected connection between George Augustus Lee and Mary Shelley too! Next up, I talked about the Battle of Theale Moor (and how a magician was called in to end a battle between the farmers of Moston and Chadderton), and then Tinker’s Gardens – North Manchester’s very own pleasure gardens. I ended January with a show about one of my absolute favourite tales of North Manchester: Hannah Beswick, also known as the Manchester Mummy.
I started this month with a show devoted to one of Middleton’s (and North Manchester’s) ‘power families’: Meet the Asshetons. Then I followed this with a show about George Victor Townley, a young man from Hendham Vale who killed his ex-girlfriend and was convicted of murder… but what happened next will shock you! This controversial case caused quite a stir in the 1860s and led to much discussion about the ‘insanity plea’.
My other February shows saw my first guests of the year come in to the studio. I spoke to Josie Loftus about the Once Upon a Time project at Manchester Communication Academy, and I interviewed Larysa Bolton about the Ukrainian Folk Art Museum at the Ukrainian Centre on Smedley Lane.
This month, I welcomed Friends of Heaton Hall to the studio to talk about their work and the history of the hall. Later on in March, I spoke to Friends of Clayton Park about their work at Clayton Hall, and about some of the events and activities the hall now offers.
Other shows this month focused on two of the major employers in North Manchester’s industrial history. I talked about the CWS Crumpsall biscuit factory, including some of the products and recipes associated with the factory. And I also talked Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, the innovative man who opened (though didn’t manage) Ferranti’s in Hollinwood. This show was ‘electric’ in more ways than one, as I also had an interview with the curators of Electric Generations, an exhibition about domestic electricity that was held at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill.
My first show in April was about Cheetham Hill’s Literary Daughters – Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jessie Fothergill and Maria Theresa Longworth (better known as Theresa Yelverton), who were all born in Cheetham Hill in the nineteenth century and became authors. The following week, I returned to North Manchester’s big industrial employers with a show on Alliott Verdon Roe and the aircraft manufacturing company he founded – Avro.
In the second half of the month, I did my first ‘On Location’ shows – recorded on site at two fascinating (but very different) North Manchester locations. The first was at the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester in Cheetham Hill. And the second was at Grade I-listed Heaton Hall, where I was taken for a tour by the Friends group.
My first show this month was a rather grisly tale of North Manchester’s past – the story of the Moston Axe Murder from 1888. I quickly followed this dark little story up with a Who Am I? catch-up show, and a chance to revisit some of the iconic buildings that have been featured in the weekly quiz so far. Next up, I talked about Blackley’s Litchford Hall (now the Convent of the Good Shepherd).
I also had some interviews with fascinating guests this month. Liz McIvor of the Co-Operative Heritage Trust came along to talk about the Rochdale Pioneers Museum and the history of the co-operative movement, and I also spoke to Alan Clegg of the John Stocke Charity in Middleton, one of the UK’s oldest charities. This latter show also featured an introduction to another of the area’s ‘power families’: the Radcliffes of Manchester.
My show in June featured two interviews. I spoke to Alan Clegg again – this time about his magazine Memories of Middleton and his involvement in local history projects. I also talked to editor Will Carr about The Ink Trade, a new collection of the journalism of one-time Harpurhey resident Anthony Burgess. Continuing this bonanza of guests, my next show also had two guests! First up, I spoke to Christine Grime of the Edgar Wood Society, and then I welcomed Richard from the Friends of Angel Meadow to the studio to talk about the history of Angel Meadow and the work of the Friends group.
My next two shows were all about parks. I talked about Queen’s Park in Harpurhey – one of the first public parks in Manchester. And then I reported on the 50th anniversary celebrations at Herristone Park in Crumpsall, interviewing local residents, community groups and local councillors about the park’s half-century of history and importance to the local area.
My next guest, in August, was researcher Ann Siburuth, who came on the show to talk about post-war Polish Resettlement Camps in Moston and Crumpsall – a fascinating and (now) little-known bit of the history of Broadhurst Park and the former Rec Ground on Hazelbottom Road. The show that followed was a trip to Newton Heath, as I shared the story of engineering firm Heenan and Froude, and their most famous creation – the Blackpool Tower. Another show in August looked at my ‘North Manchester Miscellany’, a collection of small curious tales from around the area – from disappearing children in Blackley to rabies in Crumpsall and turkey-rustling in Moston. And finally, my last show this month looked at the story of activist, rambler and son-of-Cheetham Hill Benny Rothman and the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932.
September began with the answer to a mystery than has been puzzling me for over a year. Chetham’s Library tweeted a picture of a lantern slide, taken somewhere in Manchester at an unknown time. I’ve been obsessing of that mystery lantern slide for all that time, but have finally worked out what (I think) the building is. I revealed my solution – and showed my working – on the show this month!
Following that, I had an interview with Rob Hargreaves and Alan Hampson, authors of Beyond Peterloo: Elijah Dixon and Manchester’s Forgotten Reformers (published this year by Pen and Sword Books). I also had shows about Miss Mary Taylor of Moston, a self-taught scientist and friend of John Dalton who lived in Moston in the nineteenth century, and on Middleton Junction, including a bit of the history of Jumbo Farm and Bradshaw Hall.
This month, I started off with a show dedicated to Booth Hall (the house, not the hospital). I did talk a bit about the history of the Booth Hall estate back when the show started, but in the context of it being part of the medieval Blackley deer park. This time, I focused a bit more on some of the people who lived at the hall, from its construction in 1640 to its demolition in 1908. The following week, I reported on a small exhibition of photos of old Moston, which were taken by the North Manchester Camera Club, at the Cheetham and Crumpsall Heritage Society. I talked to various members of the society about the pictures and about their memories of Moston and the North Manchester area.
The next show commemorated the 150th birthday of a (now) North Manchester-based company – the Manchester Evening News. Although the paper’s origins aren’t in the north of the city, their current location in Hollinwood made me interesting in covering their story. (The site of the current Manchester Evening News building is where Ferranti’s factory was, and before that Birchin Bower, the home of Hannah Beswick. As I’ve already covered Ferranti’s and Hannah Beswick on earlier shows, it seemed only right to talk about the site’s current resident as well!) And then the final show in October featured an interview with Martin Dodge, one of the authors of Manchester: Mapping the City, a new book on the cartographical history of the city, which was published by Birlinn this year.
I started this month with an interview with Andrew Crome about ‘Apocalyptic Ashton’, an event he organized in Ashton exploring the life and legacy of John Wroe. Wroe founded the Christian Israelite Church and sought to make Ashton-under-Lyne the ‘New Jerusalem’. I talked to Andrew about this intriguing aspect of neighbouring Tameside’s history. My next show was a little closer to home, as I told Three Tales of Old Crumpsall – murder at the workhouse, poisoned beer and a fraudulent stationmaster were on today’s menu!
My next show was recorded ‘On Location’ again – this time at St Peter’s Church in Blackley Village. Reverend Eddie Roberts took me around this Grade II*-listed Gothic revival church, and we talked about its history, architecture and identity in the community. My final show in November welcomed Karen Shannon of Manchester Histories to the studio, as we talked about the plans and opportunities for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre next year.
My last live interview of the year was with Celia Cropper of Friends of Broadhurst Park. I talked to Celia about the twentieth-century history of the park, and also about the work of the Friends group. My next show was inspired by the sad news of the death of Pete Shelley, founder member of Buzzcocks. As it was such a significant place in the Buzzcocks’ careers, I took a little trip (figuratively speaking) to the Electric Circus, the short-lived but famous punk venue on Collyhurst Street. While the music and subculture history might not be my strong point, I was intrigued by this run-down little club (long since demolished), and its place in the local history of Collyhurst. My penultimate show of 2018 featured Three Tales of Old Cheetham Hill – an unsolved murder, the coming of the tramways and an unlicensed slaughterhouse all made an appearance on the show.
Finally in December, it was my Christmas Special. This year, it fell on Christmas Day itself – so I made it extra festive. Like last year, I indulged in a bit of festive nostalgia, inviting residents of Moston, Crumpsall, Cheetham Hill and Miles Platting to share their memories of North Manchester Christmases Past – all with a bit of vintage Christmas music to add to the mood.
My next show will be my first of 2019! Hope you tune in!
I’ll be on air on New Year’s Day with a Yesterday’s Papers Special, reading the local papers from the week between Christmas and New Year, 1940. As always, you can catch the show on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
I’ve had another really great year presenting Hannah’s Bookshelf. I’ve welcomed some brill guests to the studio, as well as recording interviews with writers from further afield. I’ve also played some great original fiction and poetry, and had a bit of fun putting together reading lists for my Special Editions. This year, I’ve also tried out some new formats for the show and recorded interviews at a variety of events and venues. Below is a round-up of everything that happened this year on the show, but I’d like to say a big thanks to North Manchester FM for continuing to let me haunt their airwaves and to Rob Shedwick (aka Digital Front) for being my unofficial producer on the show.
I kicked off the new year with a Special Edition. As January 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I thought it would be cool to look at some of the other books that share its birthday. My first show of the year, then, was an 1818 special, looking at a selection of the titles published that year. You can see the books I featured on the show here. And then I followed that with another – quite different – Special Edition. Inspired by a binge-watch of old Friends episodes on Netflix, I devoted a show to some of my favourite literary BFFs. There’s a list of the books featured on that show here. I finished off January with a Clips Show, and another chance to hear about some of the titles featured on my 2017 Special Editions.
Also in January, North Manchester FM were invited back to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, and the station broadcast live from the festival on Friday 26th January. I was one of the presenters who took part in the show, and you can hear my highlights from the festival here.
In February, I alternated between guest interviews and Special Editions. My first guest of the year – in my first transatlantic interview of 2018 – was the lovely Catherine Lundoff. Later in the month, I welcomed Art Vanguard’s Ruta Skudraite to the studio to talk about (amongst other things) the 2018 Free For Arts festival. I also did a Special Edition featuring some of my favourite books about books – and you can see the titles that made my list here – and one about my favourite literary chickens (seriously!), which was inspired by a news story about KFC running out of meat. You can see the books that made my ‘chick lit’ list here.
March began with an interview with Emma Newman, and later in the month I also spoke to the Folklore Podcast’s Mark Norman. This month, I also had a very exciting Live Poetry Special – I invited twelve (twelve!) fab poets to the studio to perform their work live. You can see the list of poets, and a little bit about their work, here.
Also in March, I did a Short Stories Special, featuring readings of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W.W. Jacobs and ‘The Doll’s Ghost’ by F. Marion Crawford. And there was another chance to hear some of the titles selected for 2017’s Special Editions in my second Clips Show.
I had three excellent guests in April. I began the month with another transatlantic interview – this time with the brilliant Cat Rambo. Next up, I welcomed poet Debz Butler to the studio to talk about, amongst other things, Testify Poetry, her spoken word night in Chester. My next interview was with playwright, actress and director Tracey Norman.
I had one Special Edition show to round off the month. This time, I talked about my favourite ‘Mysterious Strangers’ in literature (you know, those enigmatic characters who turn up, usually offering a deal that seems too good to be true…). You can see which books made my list in this blog post.
May’s schedule on Hannah’s Bookshelf was Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! I welcomed back three of the poets who performed on this year’s Live Poetry Special as guests on the regular show. First up, it was John Wilmington, then I had an interview with Randall L. Horton, and then the brill Gordon Zola. As well as talking about their work, influences and performances, all my guests also read and performed poems on air. I completed this poetry-flavoured month with an interview with Sharena Lee Satti, who also read from her work on the show.
More exciting guests in June! First up, I had professional Joan Collins lookalike Barbara Angela Kealy, who came up from London to talk about her debut novel, a crime thriller set in the world of celebrity lookalikes. Next, I welcomed back Caroline England to the show (Caroline made her first Hannah’s Bookshelf appearance back in October 2017. There was some extra bonus content in this show as well, as I played interviews with the amazing Yrsa Daley-Ward and with Salford Arts Theatre, who talked about their upcoming production of Hobson’s Choice. My next guest in June was the lovely Ruth Estevez, who came along to talk about her new novel Jiddy Vardy, and then I welcomed debut novelist Catherine Burns to talk about her novel The Visitors.
My final show in June was perhaps one of my most ambitious of the year. I interviewed the writers, directors, actors, composers and producers of twelve (twelve!) shows being staged as part of the 2018 Greater Manchester Fringe. I had a brilliant time meeting such a variety of creative types involved with this year’s festival, and you can see details of the shows I featured on the show in this blog post.
And so, to July, and as I’d done so many interesting interviews for Hannah’s Bookshelf and A Helping of History (my other show on North Manchester FM), I thought it would be good to have an Interview Catch-Up show to give them a second airing. I followed this up with an awesome transatlantic interview with Wilnona and Jade, the And I Thought Ladies.
Next up was another multi-guest show, as I reported on this year’s Portico Sadie Massey Prize for Young Readers and Writers. I was joined in the studio by Paul Morris, one of the judges this year, and I also played interviews with judges, organizers, guests and (most importantly) prize-winners, which I recorded at the awards evening. As a bit of bonus content, this show also featured an interview with the lovely Gill Sims, recorded during the launch tour for her latest book, Why Mummy Swears. Finally, I wrapped up July with a Special Edition – this time it was my literary Seven Deadly Sins, and you can see a list of the books featured on the show here.
A Special Edition kicked off August’s schedule. This time, it was a literary nostalgia show, as I ran through my top picks of books published in 1973. You can see the books I chose in this blog post. Later in the month, I had another Special Edition, and for the first time (ever!) I actually did one of things I promise in the show’s trailer… I reviewed my Recent Reads!
My birthday is in August, and it turns out I share a birthday month with a few other presenters at the station. This year, I decided all us Leos should get together and take over the station for a couple of hours – and we called our little show Lion Club. I really enjoyed this, as it was great fun doing a show with presenters that I don’t normally work with. Plus, we had a cake.
September also saw me welcome the brilliant Marc Nash to the studio, not long after his book Three Dreams in the Key of G was nominated for this year’s Not the Booker Prize. I also interviewed local author N.J. Cartner (though how he found time to speak to me with the incredible schedule of readings and events he’s done this year is beyond me!), and I welcomed back another of the poets from my Live Poetry Special, Hilary Walker.
October began with an interview with poets Helen Darby and Emily Oldfield, who perform together as Give ’Em Hell. Continuing the poetry theme, I then welcomed Paul Robert Mullen to the studio to talk about his latest collection. My next guest was one of the artists I interviewed back in June for my GM Fringe Special – Rosa Wright, and it was great to have chance to talk to her in more detail about her work.
The month ended – as is now tradition – with my Halloween Special. As well as telling a few creepy stories of my own (including a bizarre little ad-libbed tale about bingo), I played the shortlist of this year’s 3 Minute Scares competition and announced the winner: the title of Greater Manchester’s Spookiest Wordsmith was awarded to Keri Moriarty this year. As usual, I presented the show in fancy dress.
And if you would like to hear my own attempt at a bit of spooky flash fiction, here’s ‘Corporation Pop’, the story I wrote for this year’s Halloween Special.
Another artist from my GM Fringe Special returned to the show in November. This time it was Bury-based writer, actor and director Lewis Charlesworth. It was really fun talking to Lewis about his work, and hearing about the new work that’s in the pipeline. Next up, I had a couple of horror writers… I spoke to Colin Robertson (aka MKN Spiers), and then I welcome Rachel Halsall (one of the runners-up in this year’s 3 Minute Scares competition) to the studio.
Finally in November, I spoke to Andre Govier about his novel Living Like Livvy, written to raise funds for the Manchester-based charity Reverse Rett.
December started off with an interview with 1 coolpoet (aka Rebecca Riley), who talked about her work and also performed a couple of pieces (including a recording of ‘Why?’, recently set to music by musicians Morrisey and Marshall. My final interview of the year was with Daniel James, who talked to me about his debut novel The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas.
And then it was the festive season… My Pre-Christmas Christmas Special this year featured a classic Christmas ghost story, followed by this year’s 3 Minute Santas festive flash fiction submissions. And then it was time for my (slightly earlier than usual) Christmas Special – I talked about the six books that have made my festive reading list this year. You can see the books that made this year’s list here.
There’s just one show left this year, and I hope you’ll tune in…
Coming up at 2pm on Saturday 29th December, I’m doing my end-of-year show. Tune in for some of my personal highlights, including a selection of the books saved in The Library at the End of Days. As always, you can listen on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
This year, the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special on North Manchester FM was on Saturday 22nd December. As is now tradition, I devoted this show to a little selection of festive fiction to accompany your mulled wine and mince pies. You can listen to the show again on the player below, but, as promised, here are the books that I featured on this year’s festive list…
I began today’s show with as sweet a Christmas romance as I could find. Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery is the third in Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery series, and features characters who will be familiar to readers of the previous two books – and there’s an author note at the beginning of the novel to catch up readers who aren’t. Set on the Cornish tidal island of Mount Polbearne, the series features Polly Waterford, who runs the eponymous bakery and lives in an old lighthouse with her American boyfriend Huckle and their pet puffin Neil. This third instalment also features Polly’s ‘blond and sophisticated’ friend Kerensa and her American husband Reuben (who is also Huckle’s best friend). The story begins with Kerensa and Reuben’s relationship getting into trouble, as the result of a terrible mistake Kerensa made back in the Spring, but it really gets going properly five weeks before Christmas, as Polly faces the various stresses of the festive season. And it’s not just the pressures of running the bakery – Polly and Huckle face crisis after crisis in their personal lives, as well as the stress of dealing with Kerensa and Reuben’s problems. Just when it seems like nothing else can go wrong, a storm cuts Mount Polbearne off from the mainland… can our plucky confectioner pull off a magical Christmas?
Colgan’s novel is a sweet romance – in more ways than one. While this isn’t my usual genre of choice, I do like Colgan’s conversational writing style. And it’s definitely a book that wears its Christmas credentials on its sleeve. This seemed like a good way to kick off my fourth Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special.
The next book on my list seems at first glance to be a lot less festive than the first. But, actually, I think Streeter’s book conjures up something of the magic of Christmas in a real heart-warming way. George Barton Baxter is the CEO of a New York textile business, and he’s sick of the Christmas preparations. He thinks about the holiday in economic terms and worries about its financial impact – he also thinks about the Christmas presents he wants (impossible dreams) and the ones he’ll get (unwanted disappointments). In an attempt to reduce the financial black hole, he makes his wife set a ‘Christmas Budget’, but the more he tries, the more expensive Christmas becomes. Things get worse and worse, as if the season itself is conspiring against Mr Baxter’s thrift.
The book has four sections – ‘October’, ‘November’, ‘December’ and ‘Christmas Eve’ – and is filled with vivid depictions of 1950s New York with a hefty dose of seasonal cynicism. Edward Streeter is probably now best known as the author of Father of the Bride, on which the 1950 Spencer Tracy film was based (remade in 1991 with Steve Martin). The character of Mr Baxter is recognizably cut from the same cloth as Stanley Banks (George Banks in the remake). He’s a man who loves his family, but who is powerless against a tidal wave of demands.
A little bit of bite-sized festive creepiness now… John Updike’s short prose pieces originally appeared in the New Yorker in 1992, but the following year were put together with illustrations by Edward Gorey, an American artist known for his creepy and off-kilter pen-and-ink-drawings, for a book publication. The twelve pieces included in the book address the inherent unsavouriness of the shopping mall Santa, the fear of returning unwanted goods, and the unsettling reality of elves. It’s a neat little package of weirdness with Updike’s prose working really well with Gorey’s characteristic illustrations. My favourite piece is ‘O Tannenbaum’, which simply offers a description of a Christmas tree – and its ‘many-limbed paralysis’ – but it’s a description that might make you rethink your decoration choices next year.
Well… it wouldn’t be the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special without a bit of Golden Age detective fiction, would it? I’m not sure why this next book hasn’t been on one of my previous lists, but I’m very happy to be putting that right now. Christie’s novel sees her little Belgian detective called in to investigate the mysterious death of Simeon Lee, an unlikable millionaire who has made his money from African diamond mines (side note: does Agatha Christie have any likable characters who have made their money from diamond mines?). Simeon Lee had called his family together at Christmas – more from mischievous malice than seasonal cheer. His sons Harry, George, Alfred and David were there with their wives. Two other guests were also present: Stephen Farr (the son of Lee’s business partner in South Africa) and Pilar Estravados (Lee’s orphaned granddaughter). After dinner on Christmas Eve, Lee retired to his room – only to be gruesomely murdered in a locked room!
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas isn’t always considered one of the best Poirot novels. But I love it – and not just because it’s festive. It plays a game with the readers that is very characteristic of Agatha Christie. It’s perhaps not the most devious game she’ll ever play, but it’s up there. If you – like me – are planning to read a load of Golden Age detective fiction over Christmas, this one should definitely be on your list.
Something a little bit different now… Holiday on Ice is a collection of essays and stories – some previously published elsewhere, some written for the collection – giving Sedaris’s darkly humorous take on the season. The best know of the pieces is probably ‘The SantaLand Diaries’, which recounts Sedaris’s experiences working as an elf at Macy’s department store. Perhaps my favourite, though, is ‘Season’s Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!’, a round-robin Christmas letter from the Dunbar family, which details Mrs Dunbar’s attempts (and failure) to cope with the bad things that have happened to her family in the manically cheery tone expected of a holiday letter. The other stories in the collection are ‘Dinah, the Christmas Whore’, ‘Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol’, ‘Based on a True Story’ and ‘Christmas Means Giving’. On the whole, reviewers have tended to decide that the first three (previously published) essays are stronger than the new pieces, but there really is quite a variety in the book so readers may disagree with this critical view.
Holidays on Ice was republished in 2008 with six additional stories: ‘Us and Them’, ‘Jesus Shaves’, ‘Let It Snow’, ‘Six to Eight Black Men’, ‘The Monster Mash’, and ‘Cow and Turkey’.
I ended the show with something rather sombre – sorry for killing the festive mood. ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’ is a dramatic monologue in ballad form written by George Robert Sims. Sims was a campaigning journalist interested in social reform, and he was also a satirist and playwright. ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’ was perhaps his most popular work. It’s unashamedly melodramatic, and it got some criticism from supporters of the workhouse system (mostly because they claimed its comment on ‘out relief’ was inaccurate. It has also been much parodied over the years. I decided that, rather than talk about this monologue, the best way for listeners to experience it would be if I performed it in full. If you missed my dramatic rendition of this Christmas tale, then you’ll have to give the show a listen on the player below!
To hear my performance of ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’, and to find out more about all of these books and about my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special here:
The Helping of History Christmas Special will be on Christmas Day this year. On Tuesday 25th December, 12-2pm, I’ll be sharing some special memories of North Manchester’s Christmases past. Tune in to hear about the festive season in Moston, Miles Platting, Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall over the years.
Missed the Christmas Special? You can catch it again here:
New Year Special
And then on New Year’s Day, 12-2pm, tune in for a Yesterday’s Papers New Year Special. I’ll be looking at the local papers from the days between Christmas and New Year 1940, and sharing stories of how the city dealt with the aftermath of the Manchester Blitz. What did the end of the 1940 look like to Mancunians?
Missed the New Year Special? You can catch it again here:
Tune in to A Helping of History every Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).