A Library Burns Down

You know, in my head, I’m still a teenager. Early twenties at a push. But last night a little reality leaked in when I spent an hour or so outside, reading The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills.


There is some controversy about this book. Harper Lee issued a statement saying that she had not participated in the writing of it. But (in effect a rebuttal of the rebuttal), her elder sister, Alice, issued one confirming both their involvement and approval of it. As did a close friend, who was quoted many times in the book. It does seem that Harper’s close circle of friends, for so long famously protective of the author and unwilling to speak about her, were suddenly available and willing to talk, indicating that they had indeed been given permission by the Lee sisters.


Maybe the source of this new openness to engage was an anxiety about two movies being made at the time about Truman Capote, spotlighting Lee’s role in the research done for his book In Cold Blood, in addition to a new, unauthorised biography of Lee due to be published.

I loved the book, throwing as it did new light on a favourite author, and also a disappearing window of the world.

Anyway, I digress:

In my head, I’m still a teenager, and all that . . . but while reading, I occasionally came inside to get a coffee, answer the call of nature, etc, and in doing so I would catch a glimpse of my reflection in the kitchen window. Wearing a particular blue jumper, and my reading glasses, I saw in that reflection both my father, and my grandfather. I could imagine a long line of Murray’s behind them, too, stretching back far in time.

In Mills’ book there is an African proverb quoted:

When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

All the acquired knowledge and wealth of life experience, gone. I get that.

I am by no means an old man, still in my early forties, but as the unacknowledged (by default) historian of my family, I often think that I should start writing down the things that my grandparents and other elders told me, along with the stories that I have discovered in the pursuit of uncovering the lives of my ancestors. Because if I leave it too late, all of that information would be lost, to my children and their children. The struggles; the triumphs. All gone.


It would indeed be like a library burning down.


Hammer Chooseday #10: Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) 5/5

Peter Cushing reprises his role of the Baron, in this film going down the metaphysical road of soul transferral. He puts the soul of a wrongly executed man into the body of the woman that the man loved. Maybe not exactly the fantasy of her beloved, but close enough.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

The producer summarised the story: “This time Frankenstein creates a beautiful girl from one who has been ugly. Only something goes wrong. She goes around chopping people’s heads off with an axe.”

There’s always a glitch, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.

Susan Denberg plays Christina, a disfigured girl who is also paralysed down her left side. When a trio of arrogant dandies (I can’t believe I called them dandies) pay a visit to her father’s bar, they mock her, angering Hans, who gets in a fight with them. Later, without witnesses, they kill her father, and Hans is arrested for his murder. Unwilling to provide his alibi, that he was in bed with the currently absent  Christina, (gentleman that he is), he is found guilty and sentenced to death.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

Christina, returning to the town, and unaware of both her father’s death and everything else that has transpired since, spots Hans upon the hill, about to be guillotined. There is a dramatic scene as she tries to reach him, and there is a desperation as he spots her approach, but this is Hammer-they don’t do happy endings. He is executed before she gets there. Seeing the one man, besides her father, who saw past her deformities and loved her, killed, she is overcome with grief and throws herself into a river, drowning. That’s ‘don’t do happy endings’ x2.

Cue Frankenstein and his ill-advised experiments. He never learns, does he? Not with scriptwriters like he’s got.

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil. Have you met my wife?

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil.
Have you met my wife?

Once she is brought back to life, she is not the usual, patched-up lumbering monster, but is Susan Denberg, more easy on the eye than Christopher Lee. This would be Denberg’s last film, her career curtailed by a drug-induced breakdown.

Now resurrected, Christina is just a girl with no memory of who she is.


And-good news for us, her blemishes and deformities have gone, too. You don’t get that on the NHS.

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy?

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy? Or some freaky kind of Kinder Egg?

Several times she asks the scientist to tell her of her identity, but which he declines to do. Here’s a few snapshots that might help:


Maybe not.

So, now that she is blessed with beauty, no longer paralysed and having to hide her face beneath her hair, do you remember what I said about Hammer and happy endings?


Now the vengeful spirit of Hans begins to take her over, driving her on to take revenge, in turn, against the three men who were really responsible for the crime that cost him his life.

“Kill him. Kill him. Kill him, Christina.”


After murdering the last of these, (and taking Hans’ head along for the deed, sentimental girl that she is), she flees the pursuing Frankenstein, and, having nothing left to live for, throws herself again into the river, ignoring her creator’s pleas not to do so.

The perfect combination for a stroll in the countryside: some food, a loved one, an ex's severed head.

The perfect recipe for a lovely day in the countryside: a partner, some food; a little wine; an ex-lover’s severed head. Bliss.

Farewell Christina. Farewell Susan Denberg.

I watched this while my wife had her earphones in, listening to music. When it finished, I said “It was quite good that.”  She replied “It looked boring as Hell!”

I enjoyed this different take on the Frankenstein story. We are now ten posts in on the Hammer Chooseday series, and I am yet to make a fan of her. I’ve not given up yet, but I think it best I avoid the lesbian vampires.

Trolls and Witches and Selkies – Oh My!

Another great review here of the Northlore Series: Folkore anthology. My poem ‘Mara, My Love’ gets a mention.

The Monash Fairy Tale Salon

A fresh new collection of folklore was released from Nordland Publishing last month: The Northlore Series: Volume One. Though it’s slightly outside the fairy-tale focus of the MFTS, I was delighted when asked to review it on the blog.

And let me tell you, from the moment I saw the cover I was hooked, and I began my journey into the realm of trolls, draugrs, huldr, selkies, elves, and witches…


Gorgeous isn’t it? The book is a contemporary collection of 33 Scandinavian folk tales, inspired by ancient tales from this region. I’ve read many anthologies of old tales collected from different countries, so it was refreshing to read some modern incarnations!

Indeed, as Nordland Publishing have written about their book:

“The Scandinavian peoples came originally from a world of mists and forests, a landscape that spawned a rich history of myth and legend, which entered the collective psyche and formed the bedrock of their soul…

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So Spoke The Grass

Sometimes, when I haven’t been out of doors for a few days, I begin to get a little tetchy. Confined and cooped up, I need to escape for a few hours to remedy my growing impatience and lethargy. And a walk into town won’t do, either. It has to be somewhere wild, or at least green, in a park or over fields or something. Recently feeling so afflicted, I escaped to our local woods, buzzing with life as they are at this time of year. While I was there, I saw a young guy, oblivious to my presence, walking through the trees with headphones on. There seemed something contradictory about this, something perverse. Even pointless. It is like going scuba diving blindfolded.

As he walked ahead, disengaged, the wind was blowing through the long swathes of grass that surrounded him, and, although the seasons were different, they overlapped in the following lines from Capote’s The Grass Harp that came to mind:

Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices…

… Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a story-it knows the stories of all the people on the hill, of all the people who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.

Taken yesterday, on Tandle Hill.

Taken yesterday, on Tandle Hill. Talking.

Elsewhere in the book, there are other such passages of wonderful prose, elaborating further:

But the wind is us-it gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields…

… On such a night, now that it was September, the autumn winds would be curving through the taut red grass, releasing all the gone voices, and I wondered if he was singing among them, the old man in whose bed I lay falling asleep.

I don’t know what the lad was listening to. It could have been something utterly divine, some of the most moving music ever created by man. But could it be more beautiful, more evocative, than the grass harp, singing and speaking all around him, the birds, and the trees adding layer upon layer to that great symphony?

Maybe he was listening to The Sex Pistols, or Anthrax. One man’s meat and all that. But still, there’s a time and place. I’ve never seen a sunflower headbang.

When we tune out, we disconnect. All around us, the natural world shares both our stories and our fate. It celebrates and laments, and provides a window of inspiration.

The wind got up; the swathes danced; the harp played on.The man vanished from sight, rounding the bend of the river. Capote’s final paragraph, as I sat on the hill, taking it all in:

It was as though neither of us had known where we were headed. Quietly astonished, we surveyed the view from the cemetery hill, and arm in arm descended to the summer-burned, September-burnished field. A waterfall of color flowed across the dry and strumming leaves; and I wanted then for the Judge to hear what Dolly had told me: that it was a grass harp, gathering, telling, a harp of voices remembering a story. We listened.


Predictive Text Snippet

I took two of my daughters to watch Manchester City Women’s team in a match against Birmingham. After it finished, we nipped into the Asda Supermarket next door to pick a few things up, so I sent a text to my wife that was supposed to inform her of this:

“The match has finished. I am now in Basra.”

She replied:

“Have you got your key? I’m not waiting up.”

Watchman Set, Read, Gone. No Spoilers!

I finished the book in two days. And, after the loooong wait, I loved it.

But it has to be read not as a To Kill A Mockingbird sequel, or prequel, but as a stand-alone novel, albeit with familiar characters. Perhaps that will negate the sense of expectation for you-but I doubt it!


The book is still concerned with the racism of the south at a certain moment in time, but instead of being seen through the innocence of the child Scout, it is now seen through the scathing judgement of the adult Scout: Jean Louise Finch.

It is in effect the first draft of what my favourite book evolved from, and so we must remember that the characters changed and evolved too.

For those of you who hold Atticus in such high esteem, you should maybe be prepared to have your figure of ideal rocked, although it is not so black and white (pun not intended). His brother, on page 265, gives a speech to Jean Louise about her father which he could so easily be giving to any of us who have admired this fictional character for so long.

After being so elated and thankful for the chance to read something-anything-else by Harper Lee, I find myself being greedy again, wishing that she had written more books. Perhaps the one that was meant to be the follow up to To Kill A Mockingbird about someone hunting deer, which was allegedly stolen shortly before completion.

It is up to you if you want to run the risk of shattering the image of your literary heroes and ideals, but I enjoyed it. My copy is already promised to the Polish guy who runs the coffee shop in which I read it in this morning. Might be worth a Latte or two.