Pangolin 51 will go out on Boxing Day 2019 so, unlike Pangolin 50, which was late, this one is prepared for launching in advance. We expect to have 10 adults and 8 grandchildren so the Cundallhouse will be heaving. The family have evolved a fancy-dress tradition for Christmas Day. In recent years we’ve had Pirates, Robin Hood, Circus. This November opinions flowed back and forth on the family WhatsApp for weeks. Some of the grandchildren have reached the age of veto: – ‘no’ to Harry Potter, said one, ‘no’ to Roald Dahl another. I almost waded in and suggested what about the, um, Christmas story, but eventually Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ emerged as the consensus choice.
There will be at least two Lyras, but my mindful soulmate and I are interpreting the theme more liberally. She will go as a Gyptian with a badger as her daemon and I will be a mysterious writer, with a daemon who, of course, has to be a pangolin. I rather like my daemon. As you can see, she is only a baby pangolin, with lots of little scales, each one painstakingly stuck on with PVA glue when there were, I was reliably badgered, many more urgent things to be done before Christmas.
Since Pangolin 50 came out, my second novel was long-listed for the Cinnamon Literary Award 2019. To be honest this feels a bit like a step backwards as my first novel was short-listed by Cinnamon in 2017. However, that was before Cinnamon opened the competition to short stories and poems as well. Poetry is, in my view, on a higher plane to humble prose. I am looking forward to editing Novel 2 again, now I have the final report from Tamsin Hopkins, my Cinnamon Pencil mentor for 2019. The story has legs, we believe, and I look forward to convincing a few more people of this in 2020.
Meanwhile, I am renewing my research into what was the local Preventorium, by interviewing a few folk who lived there as children and have contacted me following an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post. I am not sure whether these researches will lead to a novel or to some creative non-fiction. There’s always something new to be said about the relationship between TB and humanity, what better way to say it than through the eyes of children segregated from their families for their own good, or so it was thought at the time? I have a gut feeling that I may discern some parallels with the darkening political landscape in Britain in the 2020s.
And this is what my daemon looks like when she’s frightened and rolls up into a ball. Sometimes this is me, but now is not the time to shrink from the challenges that confront us in life, or in literature. I loved listening to Girl, Woman, Other as an audiobook so much, that I have been listening to it all over again. Bernadine Evaristo merges poetry with prose and her many characters are brought even more to life by the voice of Anna-Maria Nabirye on Audible. Bernadine and Maggie Gee were the excellent tutors on an Arvon course at Totleigh Barton that I attended some years ago with my first novel, now called Yetunde’s House. Bernadine told me that when she read Yetunde’s voice she could hear her Nigerian father speaking. Words of encouragement like these from great authors are so important for new writers, old or young, and help us to have the courage to uncurl, sniff the air and go dig up some termites or whatever else we feel called to do.
I look forward to writing to you all again in time for the first new moon of 2020. Don’t forget the real pangolins.