Monday, 8 March 2010

When we were very young

Northern childhoods form a famous and wonderful canon of literature. An excellent example from it, which I discuss at some length in the book, is William Woodruff's celebrated The Road to Nab End - an extraordinary Northern childhood, and its sequel Beyond Nab End. The 'extraordinary' thing for me is not the almost Pythonesque setting of Woodruff's birth and upbringing in Blackburn, but the way he describes the cheerfulness as well as the hard knocks. He put this positive attitude to good effect himself, becoming an internationally respected historian before the books brought him a different sort of success relatively late in life. Nab End has an interesting history; first published as Billy Boy by Ryeburn in 1993, it was a slow burner, until it took off, renamed, in a Little Brown Abacus edition in 2000. The original subtitle was also more subdued, and accurate: A Lancashire Childhood. Beyond Nab End is good but not as good. Little Brown Abacus published it in 2003. Talking of Blackburn childhoods, Hunter Davies' biography of the fellwalker Alfred Wainwright (no relation of moi) is fascinating. AW was an extraordinary character, although to be honest, not one with whom I'd have wanted to have tea. That's Wainwright, the Biography (updated edition, Orion 2002),
Another and more famous Northern writer now: Lewis Carroll, Child of the North by Anne Clark Amor Lewis Carroll Society 1995) is a handy account of the Alice man's upbringing at Croft, where William Hague and Tony Blair's constituencies used to face one another across the Tees in the days when one led the Government and the other the Opposition. Edge of Darkness, Edge of Light (Souvenir Press 1977) is a moving autobiography of his childhood by R C Scriven, the blind and deaf writer who amassed enough powerful images of the world during the eight years before deafness struck, followed some 20 years later by blindness, to colour marvellous radio plays and much other writing. Finally, for now, a long-standing Guardian reader, Marjorie Jones, sent me her Count Up to Ten, an account of a Bradford childhood in the Twenties (MJ 1987) which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think that everyone should set down their life story, and get a tax rebate for lodging it in the British Library.

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