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Something fishy going on in the world of children’s publishing?

stickleback

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

You will probably recognise my name from such best-selling titles as The Johnson Book of The RomansThe Johnson Celtic Sticker Book, and The Complete Johnson History of London. Yes, I am the celebrated children’s author and historian, Sara Stickleback.

Last year, on the release of The Johnson Book of the Georgians, a work the Johnson publishing house found a little daring due to its focus on one of the seemingly less popular periods of our history, I was tempted to write a work that genuinely went beyond the frankly quite tiresome accounts of Kings, battles and (ha ha) toilets. I worked on a proposal for The Johnson Book of The World Turned Upside Down. It was to cover the beliefs and practices of Ranters, Levellers and Anabaptists, amongst others, but with a focus on Winstanley to give a ‘famous men’ gloss that would make it commercially viable. The proposal was rejected, and quite rudely so, I felt: children have no interest in C17th religious dissidents, apparently.

A little unnerved, I tried again. This time The Johnson Book of Historical Pets. My initial email was met with much warmth, and I was asked to turn in a detailed treatment. I decided to focus on prince Rupert’s hound, of course, and that War Horse, but I added some less well known characters, and Vinegar Tom, and then, thinking as I often do about the hardship endured by Magellan, I imagined myself partaking of those weevil wreathed biscuits, and I thought that, of course, I would have kept one of their number at least for company. So I imagined myself there, and came up with names for all concerned, and that went in as well.  I always like to have at least one page in each of my books dedicated to ‘recovered voices and minor perspectives’, and I know my publishers heartily endorse this focus. I will indicate how women’s voices, and the voices of children, for example, have been silenced within a history penned by men.  Expansion would no doubt go down well, I thought, so I framed my history from the perspective of the animals, and, as far as I could, I stayed true to the voice I caught emanating from the gap within the record.

As my treatment was not mentioned again, I tried once more, but from a different angle. The personal touch is promoted by the Johnson company, so I began, and then fully completed, The Johnson Book of Stickleback Pets, a history of animals with whom I have had shared my life. To offer some context, and to avoid the pitfalls of a too human centred narrative, I included the history of these individuals up until the 7th ancestor, and beyond where I felt able, and open to receive the information necessary to the task. Children, I am told, also like the mysterious. So I have penned The Johnson Book of the Wis. Ah! The Wis! They watch, and always have, so I am surprised we have not turned to them before for our histories.

There is more to come. As my publishers have seemingly better things to do then engage my efforts, however, I thought this a good opportunity to contact your good selves. The Lethmachen History of the Fields and TreesThe Lethmachen Sticker Book of Damned Exchanges.  The Pop Up Lethmachen Red Book. The Complete Lethmachen History of My Wanting. I await you response…

Yours most sincerely,

Sara Stickleback   

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Mystery surrounds the nameless shapes that are seen around town…

sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been reading your website this evening, although I’m a little ashamed to admit it, as my wife has taken my little boy off to the in-laws for the weekend, and by rights I should be living it up in town. Sad to say, I just haven’t got it in me at the moment. So I have been sitting here, having a beer or two, and getting really interested in all the strange stuff I never realised was (or wasn’t!) going on around me. I was thinking how much I would love to contribute, when the thought struck me, actually for the first time, that something weird had happened to me only this week.

This could bit dismissed as parental indulgence, but it is true when you have kids, you do notice things you would not otherwise. It’s the strange way kids have at looking at world. I’m talking about boys especially here, because that’s what I know. What gets me is the way they get things half right. You end up thinking, ‘wow, that’s new’ even as you are laughing at how dumb they can be. It’s like the buses: boys really love them. Not just mine, ether. I’ve noticed it even on the way to work with other dads and their sons. The kids will be asking questions ‘where does that one go?’ and the like, and they know all the numbers, and some of the drivers. They see glamour in it, and it is all planned, and so you can see why. The trouble is, they think all that regularity and effort is magical, when it’s actually dull as anything.

I was walking my boy home from nursery last week, when he provided me with what seemed to be another example of this kind of boyish over-valuation of mundane public phenomena. There is this pretty ugly copper statue on the high street. It’s the one just on from the A-store, the one that looks like an accident in a semi-circle factory. My boy asked, ‘Who made that?’ I didn’t know, and sensing an opportunity for a bit of a public display of advanced fathering, I walked over to the thing and looked at it. ‘Sometimes they have the name of the person who made it on the base’, I explained. We looked but couldn’t find one. My son seemed happy enough, so we walked round, taking in the shapes, and talking about art. ‘I’ll find out who made it for you’, I said. That night, when I was tucking him in, this was in my mind, for some reason, although I think it had probably long gone from his, and I said I would have the name of who made the sculpture by the time I picked him up the next day. I suppose I saw some chance to make some educational point, because I talked about reference books, and record offices and the Internet. I did a search that night, but I couldn’t come up with something. This didn’t surprise me: Lethmachen is not really known for its art, is it?

On my lunch break the next day, I walked the five minutes to Shire Hall, and asked if anyone could tell me anything about the work. They seemed in a rush, but I was told to sit and wait. A few minutes later, a young guy came out, and asked me to follow him. We went down to a record office, all paper based, and he pointed me to a shelf he said dealt with commissions. Well, I didn’t really know what to do, so I started back in the 50’s, and just began pulling out one file after another. I couldn’t find anything relating to any sculptures. There was stuff about the bandstand, and a new mayoral mace, and a ton of other similarly boring stuff. I assumed I was looking in the wrong place. The guy was still in the room, engrossed with another shelf, so I called him over. With a confident, disinterested air, he began snatching files from the shelves, but after a minute, his hand movements, already fast, became quicker still. I don’t know why, but I started to get scared. Then he stopped what he was doing, and looked at me with incomprehension, and something like anger. ‘I’m sorry’, he snapped, ‘I’m going to have to get back to you on this. Please…’ I followed his outstretched arm, and walked to the door, but before I ascended the stairs, I looked back at him. He had his arms outstretched, and was gripping onto the shelves with white-knuckled hands, staring at the lines of dull, brown files.

I found I couldn’t just drop it. When I met my kid from school, I told him daddy hadn’t found out who made the sculpture yet. ‘What should we do next?’ I said. I talked about the British library, and more about the Internet, and the lecturers at Universities who knew all about these things. He gave me a little bit of his attention. I think, already, he can see when something is not going to go anywhere. I don’t know. The incident upset me, to be honest, in a way that I still can’t quite understand. I mean, we all know that public sculpture is usually pretty much anonymous, especially the shite round our way, right? So why does the anonymity of this work seem so threatening? What does it matter, after all, if no one, and I mean no one, knows where it comes from. Any thoughts? Even better, any idea who made the sculpture’s on the High Street?

 Lethmachen Dad

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