Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas

"Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that child Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled." St Robert Southwell

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Was Shakespeare a Catholic?

Well, this isn't exactly conclusive evidence and I have to admit, I wasn't entirely convinced by Clare Asquith's book either (though it is a great read and I thought that some of the arguments were quite compelling) but it's not a question that is going away any time soon. My supervisor at Cambridge was pretty certain that Shakespeare was at the very least a Catholic sympathiser, and his father's name appeared on a list of Recusants. I think that there are some very strong Catholic references in Shakespeare's plays and poems, which I would like to blog about at a later date, but I am also all too aware of how easy it is to read hidden messages into literature.

It's no good. Somebody is just going to have to unearth an icon with To Master William Shakespeare on the occasion of his Confirmation inscribed on the back. Or something like that.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

This Little Babe

In celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, here is part of Britten's Ceremony of Carols. I love This Little Babe which, along with Behold a silly tender babe was written by my hero St Robert Southwell.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Sycophant Blair and the Iraq War

Sir Ken Macdonald's damning evidence to the Iraq inquiry is certainly frank.

"The degree of deceit involved in our decision to go to war on Iraq becomes steadily clearer. This was a foreign policy disgrace of epic proportions, and playing footsie on Sunday morning television does nothing to repair the damage. "It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner, George Bush, and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn't want, and on a basis that it's increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible."

What I found most interesting however, was Macdonald's reference to Blair's self-justification.
"Since those sorry days we have frequently heard him repeating the self-regarding mantra that 'hand on heart, I only did what I thought was right'. But this is a narcissist's defence, and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment: it is certainly no answer to death."

Expressions like 'I personally feel very strongly that...' and 'I had to listen to my conscience on this one' are pretty standard excuses used by people like Blair to justify their unethical positions on all kinds of subjects but as MacDonald puts it, self-belief is no answer to death. What consolation is it to the families of the 100,000 Iraqi civilians and the 1000+ soldiers who have died as a result of this conflict if Mr Blair claims to have done what he thought was right?

As the daughter of a former prisoner of conscience I do not need to be educated on the importance of following one's conscience (and yes I have had plenty of lessons from trendy liberal Catholics on that subject in the past, who would never have the guts to go through the hell my father endured) but I also know that the 'I'm following my conscience' line is all too often muddled with 'I just want to do whatever I want and nobody is going to stop me.' Obedience to conscience should never be an excuse for willful ignorance or self-justification, it is an act of obedience, it should involve seeking the Truth, discerning the Truth and obeying the Truth.

A woman at the steps of the guillotine once said: "Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!" It is equally possible to say: "Oh conscience, what crimes are committed in thy name!"

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Christmas Reading

Hint hint, it's not too late to order yourself a really cheerful Christmas read.

If family disasters are not really your thing, you might like to try Father William's Daughter, which contains a chapter referring to Midnight Mass and Christmas in a West Country market town. And only one or two disasters like violent death...

NB If you are ordering books from outside the UK, please remember to use the International delivery link on the righthand side.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Marital Arts

This made me chuckle...

h/t Loving it!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Irena Sendler

I came across this amazing story the other day, about a little-known twentieth century heroine, known as the 'female Schindler' who saved the lives of over 3000 Jewish children during the Second World War. As a social worker, Irena Sendler was able to gain access to the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled out children and babies in boxes, who were then sent to convents, presbyteries and foster families. She kept scrupulous records of the children in jars which she buried in her garden so that she could reunite them with their parents after the War, but tragically the majority of parents were gassed at Treblinka and the children were adopted.

She was eventually arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, but refused to tell them where she had hidden the children's identities, even when they broke her arms and legs. Her friends bribed a Gestapo officer to save her life and she was listed among executed persons. She went into hiding for the rest of the War and died recently at the age of 98.

This courageous Catholic woman was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but was pipped at the post by... Al Gore, a guy who made a slide show about global warming.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


I can feel the baby moving about. I am at that pleasant phase of the pregnancy where I can feel reassuring little movements but the baby is not yet behaving as though he is wearing football boots.

What's the protocol these days about talking to toddlers about pregnancy? Is three-years-old too young to understand that there is a baby coming?

Monday, 7 December 2009

'Regret' over sterilisations

The Czech government has finally expressed regret for the sterilisation of Roma women without their consent, a practice that went on for decades and, according to activists, continues to this day. Lawyers working for some of the women are demanding financial compensation, but I have a suspicious feeling compensation will not be forthcoming. In any case, it is difficult to see how it could ever be possible to compensate a woman for depriving her of the right to have children.

The Roma community were targetted because they have a high birth rate and favour large families. I have found numerous reports of this story on news sites and a few human rights sites, but no comment from any major women's group. All right, maybe I am just not looking hard enough. Perhaps somebody could point me in the right direction...

Friday, 4 December 2009

Exciting things in the post

My advance cheque has arrived - hooray! Oh Frabjuous day! Calloo callay!

Sorry, but you have to understand how seldom junior novelists make any money out of their writing. As Greg Watts put it on his blog once, for every J.K. Rowling, there are thousands of writers like us who don't get the champagne and canopes treatment, but I really don't mind. I have written the first couple of paragraphs of book number 4 and will be working against the clock from now until April to get the first draft substantially completed before the baby pops. Full steam ahead!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Snowman

It being December and bitterly cold, I have introduced my children to that glorious 1980s children's classic The Snowman. They liked it very much, particularly the Walking in the Air sequence and the part where the snowman and the boy go racing around the woods on a motorbike. I was about to get all misty-eyed and hormonal over the ending when I remembered the Irn Bru parody, which put a swift end to that.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


I am re-reading Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong at the moment. I very rarely read literature about the First World War as I find the subject so distressing, but Birdsong makes compelling if at times unsatisfying reading. I have never really understood why some writers feel the need to describe sexual encounters in such gynaecological detail. It is supposed to be erotic, no doubt, but it just leaves me thinking: "Look sweetheart, do you really think your readers don't know how it happens?"

I remember that with Tim Severin's Corsair - really terrible book about the slave trade, a subject which should provoke powerful emotions, written by a man who just doesn't do big emotion. In that book there is a male rape scene written in such cold, technical detail that it is impossible to feel any pity for the victim at all.

Having said that, one relative of mine who read The Cassandra Curse complained that it was 'a bit explicit' though I have no recollection of having written a single sexually explicit scene. Maybe I need to go back and read through it again. I might shock myself.