I’d like to talk about books…

Yvonne Rowse, programme chief

There seems to have been endless media stuff produced for lockdown. I’ve even had to watch a few because Ian has made me. We watched One Man Two Guvnors and Jesus Christ Superstar and lots of little youtube shorts. My favourite, due to brevity and immense charm, is the Good Omens: Lockdown written by Neil Gaiman. I’m not a visual media person, however, so I read. Mostly I have been reading Covid-19 stuff and I’ve had enough. I need to read something, anything, else.

The trouble is, I’ve been infected with dread. I’d be an awful apocalypse novel hero. Here we are, in the middle of a cosy catastrophe (we can, except for the key workers, avoid the virus) and I am filled with anxiety. And that means I have been frozen into immobility.

In situations of stress I normally knit and read. The first acts a little like meditation. The second takes me to different worlds where I am integral (as the reader) to helping all the great characters do great things. In books I have many friends. We are doing things more interesting than singing happy birthday twice (maybe three) times while washing our hands and bickering about what essential item we forgot to buy and can’t face going back for. In books exciting things happen, important things. Mostly no-one sits all evening eating a family size bar of chocolate.

The problem has been finding suitable books to read. I am really struggling at the moment with even mild peril. I mean, even when I’m pretty sure that everything will end up alright. I’m not just talking about death or injury; even mild embarrassment is causing me to leave a book unfinished. Jo Walton, our former Guest of Honour, has two potential solutions, as described on tor.com. Either Books in Which No Bad Things Happen or Books That Grab You. In the first there is no worry, in the second you are immersed so deep that the ‘real’ world has been left behind.

Before finding these two articles I had been reading the Chalet School books and Georgette Heyer. All were pretty much re-reads, though there are some Heyer books that I can’t finish due to fear of impending (but not terminal) dread. But I’ve read all I’ve got.

I can’t read Paladin of Souls again. I think it has one more read in it before it is sucked dry of all goodness. I’m saving that for my deathbed. My Margaret Mahy books are in pretty much the same state, even the short stories and although I could read and reread The Boy Who Was Followed Home every day it doesn’t take long, even when the pictures are examined minutely.

So, I am working my way through the books recommended both in the articles and the comments. It is worth reading all the comments as some dispute other recommendations. And Nevil Shute is recommended in the ‘grabby’ books. I can certainly say that On the Beach did not let me go once started but it has a devastating finish and, along with Ancient Light, is on my list of books to never ever read again. Not that they are bad, just that they’ll tear your heart out and leave you traumatised for weeks.

So, I reread At Amberleaf Fair (Phyllis Ann Karr) and have the Moomin books piled up ready to go. 

What books are keeping you sane and why?

Blackpool Remembered

Alex Storer

All you classic Doctor Who aficionados out there might be interested in an epic free new ebook from John Collier, entitled Blackpool Remembered. The book celebrates the original Doctor Who exhibition on Blackpool’s Golden Mile, which ran from 1974 to 1985.

I became involved in this project in April – over a month into lockdown. John Collier contacted me, as he was keen to use some of my own written memories and photographs of the original exhibition, as featured in my 2011 mini-book, Who, Where and When. Due to lockdown, John finally had the time to dedicate to his long-gestating idea of creating a detailed and comprehensive book about the exhibition – and was now looking for contributors.

I completely re-wrote my account for John’s book and one thing soon led to another. I was soon writing more pieces and working together on year-by-year floor plans. This was just the kind of Doctor Who project I had always wanted to be involved in. Soon, ideas were being exchanged, memories discussed, and having put John in touch with ex-K9 assistant operator Steve Cambden, the momentum was really growing. I volunteered to illustrate the cover, but this soon led to me producing several exclusive illustrations throughout the book.

Over the following months, Blackpool Remembered evolved into a much bigger beast than either of us ever expected. The interest and subsequent reaction has been phenomenal. We have met so many great people along the way, willing to share their personal recollections and photographs with us. It has been so rewarding to re-visit the exhibition through all of this, and for me as an artist, this is the most gratifying kind of creative collaboration. It isn’t very often that so many different elements and interests collide to create something really special, but this has been one of those moments, all thanks to John’s vision for the project.

The end result was a gobsmacking 400+ pages long, jam-packed with photographs, memories and nostalgia from over 80 contributors – with several names that will be familiar to those of us in the Whoniverse. It is an absolute must-read for anybody who ever visited the original exhibition or has an interest in the show’s props and costumes.

Blackpool Remembered was released as a free digital publication at the end of August, and recently exceeded 7,000 downloads. A revised version is currently in the works with updates to things like the floor plans, which were always going to be a work in progress, and John has started work on a follow-up publication.

I never thought time travel was possible until my involvement in this book – but it took me right back to 1985, as an awestruck seven-year-old, wandering those exhibition corridors deep beneath the Golden Mile.

Head over to blackpoolremembered7485.wordpress.com to download the free book and find out more.