Sunday 12 March 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer and world traveller Jo Carroll

The PINK SOFA has played host to writer and world traveller Jo Carroll many times. It is always inspired by her tales of her travels and especially inspired by the exotic snacks she brings with her. Now Jo has a new book out, and this time, it's historical fiction, so obviously, another visit was called for. Sit back, tuck into some freshly baked soda bread, and enjoy the latest episode in Carroll's Literary Travels!

''Many thanks for inviting me back to your comfy pink sofa, Carol, and for some interesting questions. I’ve done my best with them.

Why did you decide to write a novel, when you’re known as a travel writer? My immediate response is – why not? After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If I ended with nothing but twaddle, I could simply delete it. So, after a lot of faffing about, I gave it a go. And once I’d started, I couldn’t stop.

Why this novel? What drew you to historical fiction? Ten years ago, when I was in New Zealand, I retreated into a museum in Hokitika to get out of the cold, and I found the vignette of Barbara Weldon. She left Ireland in the mid nineteenth century and made her way to this bleak corner of the world. Why? I’d chosen to go there, on a plane that whisked me across the world; I could leave as easily if I chose to. But how had she travelled? I knew so little about her, but she rang travelling bells for me, and I couldn’t let her story go.

I googled her when I got home, but found very little. Still she intrigued me. And so, in the absence of facts, I decided to make them up. She needed a story, and I wanted to give her one. The decision to publish now was prompted partly by an editor, but more by the current attention given to immigrants and immigration. I am horrified by the lack of compassion showed by so many towards people who have suffered so much.

On one level this is the story of a displaced women over 150 years ago. But the challenges she faced, and her dependence on the kindness of strangers, has terrible echoes in the trauma of so many refugees today. I know just how much research is involved in writing about the nineteenth century.

How did you approach the research? I loved the research. I have an academic background, and so was unfazed by the piles of books and hours of reading and organising information. At one point there was a risk I’d carry on researching forever and never quite manage to shape all that reading into a novel. But this involved more than reading and googling. I spent time in Antrim, finding her farmhouse; and time in Liverpool, where very little is left from the squalor that housed the Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century.

What next? Another novel? Or back to the travel? I’ve just come back from Malawi, and so my first task is to unpick my diaries and find the story behind them. And then … who knows? I’ve loved writing fiction, and have the seed of an idea, but haven’t made a firm decision yet to let that idea come out to play to see what happens. Watch this space!! "

Buy Jo's book here:

Read her blog:
Follow her on Twitter: @jomcarroll

Sunday 5 March 2017

Mobile Madness

And so to the continuing saga of one Grumpy Old Writer versus the vagaries modern life. You remember the passport debacle, don't you? And the bank one?

Last week, after Storm Doris had passed over Hedges Towers, I noticed that the uStupidphone was only letting me make 'emergency calls'. This was worrying because a week before, while driving with BH to Aldi, I'd been rung by the police, completely out of the blue. Bit of a shock. Apparently they'd had a 999 call from my phone, presumably to alert them to the fact that it was being kidnapped and taken to Luton.

I was able to reassure the kind policewoman that I was OK and I had not, in fact, called them, but it was slightly disconcerting all the same. Anyway, I wandered into the office, where BH was dickering about on the laptop, and showed him the screen. And of course his phone was working perfectly. So I decided to get the bus & take it to the EE shop.

With hindsight, I think my mistake might have been trying to sort it myself while on the bus. Yes. Because by the time I walked through the EE door I'd managed to lock myself out of my own phone which was quite an achievement, given that it cost under £10 and has a level of complexity so low you couldn't limbo under it. All of which goes to show that nothing is so idiot-proof that it can't be broken in the hands of a real expert in idiocy.

Eventually after a certain amount of button pressing and sighing, the 12 year old in the blue overall behind the EE Tech Support desk told me I had to contact EE itself and ask for the PUK code .. whatever that was. Returning on the bus, I was still locked out of my own phone which might for all I knew, be covertly contacting the Home Office and arranging for me to be deported.

Luckily once he'd stopped eye-rolling, BH kindly rang the EE people for me and they coughed up the code, which he inputted as my elderly arthritic fingers are notoriously unreliable and we only had 3 goes before the whole ghastly lockout cycle would begin again. Then another EE man checked our post code and said that the damage had been caused by Doris knocking out their phone mast and they would, in the light of my total incompetence (implied), send me reassuring updates by text.

Which they did and over the next few hours, I had four texts reassuring me that my phone was now working perfectly, which it clearly was as I was getting the reassuring texts. Isn't it great when things ...just ... work? Even if it is probably only temporarily.