Monday, October 10, 2016

Westmorland Alone by Ian Sansom - Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Ian Sansom will be awarding 3 free e-books to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour. Enjoy this guest blog by the author:

Here’s something about me. Just one thing. But it’s quite an important thing.

I am changing jobs. Farewells have been said, glasses raised, hugs hugged and hands shaken, and now finally there is the terrible loneliness of the empty office. In the boxes before me, hundreds of files, books, dead plants, one kettle, three mugs, a couple of framed posters and a small ark’s worth of origami animals.

Between meetings and before and after classes, for as long as I can remember, I have been folding - badly - origami models. The first book I ever bought - long before I bought a novel or any slim volume of verse - was one of Robert Harbin’s wonderful little guides to origami, Origami 3: The Art of Paper-Folding (1972). Origami 1 and Origami 2 passed me by, but as teenager I was attracted to the idea of being able to make creatures almost out of nothing, and with no tools, using only my hands - Origami 3 features a couple of startlingly bright green turtles on the cover, crawling across sand like they’ve just emerged, fresh spawned, from the primordial swamp - and I was inspired also by Harbin’s tv series called, simply, Origami, which used to be on when I got home from school.

Harbin was a South African conjuror who had become fascinated by paper-folding, and his first book on the subject, Paper Magic (1956), was one of the pioneering English works on the subject. He made origami sound easy. Watching Harbin on tv and reading his books I think I realised that paperfolding in some profound way was about making things smaller and simpler, and as a teenager I had perhaps the sense, like a lot of teenagers, that I wished to be smaller and simpler, to be able to disappear almost, to enfold and to enclose myself and to become something different, and of the essence.

Unfortunately, although I had Harbin’s book as a guide I soon discovered that there was no actual origami paper to be had in Essex in the 1970s. Indeed, in our house, there was hardly any paper to be had at all. My father would occasionally smuggle some A4 sheets home from work, and I would cut these down into squares, but it was too thick and too white to be able to make satisfactory models. I eventually found that carbon paper was much better for folding, except that it left your hands blue-black and so throughout the mid-1970s I fought a long and lonely battle with paper, attempting to fold mucky, flimsy dolphins, and birds, and dogs, and weird little pointless boxes. I never could do Harbin’s turtle.

Harbin is just one of the extraordinary characters in the strange history of paperfolding - a subject which has now obsessed me for years - and which is not, as people often assume, an ancient art with mystical origins in long-ago Japan. In fact, origami as we know it today probably has its origins in a penthouse apartment on top of the Hotel Iriving, at Gramercy Park in Manhattan, where a woman called Lillian Oppenheimer established the Origami Center of America in 1958.

The entire history of origami in the twentieth century is quite extraordinary, and the characters who played a role in the development of the art as amazing as they are unexpected: Gershon Legman, the maverick Jewish sexologist whose pioneering bibliography brought origami to worldwide attention; Akira Yoshizawa, the Japanese paperfolder and part-time door-to-door snack salesman, who lays claim to being the modern father of the form; Miguel de Unamuno, the Spanish novelist and philosopher, who loved to fold ‘parajitas’, little birds; the incredible Robert Lang, the one-time research scientist turned full-time paper folder and one of the new wave of precision origamists to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, who works with laser-cutters and designs his work using his own specialist origami software; and of course Sadako Sasaki, the little girl who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, but who developed leukemia, caused by the radiation, and who in hospital, dying, folded a thousand paper cranes, that they might bring her good luck, and whose friends and classmates built a memorial for her in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, where to this day people fold paper cranes to honour her memory.

Anyway. As I shut the door on my office for the last time, I think of everything I have learnt there, and leave a single paper crane for my successor. If I could make a paper crane for all my readers I surely would.

Welcome to Westmorland. Perhaps the most scenic county in England! Home of the poets! Land of the great artists! District of the Great lakes! And the scene of a mysterious crime…

Swanton Morley, the People's Professor, once again sets off in his Lagonda to continue his history of England, The County Guides.

Stranded in the market town of Appleby after a tragic rail crash, Morley, his daughter Miriam and his assistant, Stephen Sefton, find themselves drawn into a world of country fairs, gypsy lore and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. When a woman's body is discovered at an archaeological dig, for Morley there's only one possible question: could it be murder?

Join Morley, Miriam and Sefton as they journey along the Great North road and the Settle-Carlisle Line into the dark heart of 1930s England.

Read an excerpt:

It was the most violent collision. There was a moment’s shudder and then a kind of cracking before the great spasm of movement and noise began. I fell forward and struck my head on the luggage rack. I was momentarily stunned and knocked unconscious. When I came to I found we were all tilted together into a corner of the carriage – me, the mother and the baby. Our coach seemed to have tipped to the right, off the tracks, and become wedged against an embankment. What were once the sturdy walls of the carriage were now buckled and torn like the flimsiest material: the wood was splintered, the cloth of the carriage seats split, everything was broken. I remember I shook my head once, twice, three times: it was difficult to make sense of what had happened, the shock was so great. The first thing I recognised was that the mother and baby were both crying loudly – though thank goodness they appeared to be unharmed – and that the carriage was shuddering all around us, shaking and groaning as if it were wounded.

‘Are you OK?’ I said.

The woman continued crying. Her face was streaked with tears.

‘Are you OK?’ I repeated.

Again, she simply sobbed, the baby wailing with her.

‘We must remain calm,’ I said, as loudly and authoritatively as I could manage, above the sounds, trying to reassure both them and myself, willing them to be quiet.

‘Where’s Lucy?’ she said.

Where was Lucy?

I stood up, still rather disorientated and confused.

‘I don’t know—’ I began.

‘You have to get us out!’ said the woman, between sobs.

‘I have to find Lucy.’

‘OK,’ I said. I was still gathering my thoughts, trying to work out what to do.

‘GET US OUT!’ yelled the woman, suddenly frantic.

‘I have to find my daughter! You need to do something.’

I didn’t know what to do.

‘You need to do something!’ yelled the woman again.

‘Help us!’

The carriage continued to rock and sway all around us; clearly, we had to get out.

I looked around: the window was open to darkness and the tracks beneath us.

‘What’s under there?’ cried the woman. ‘Is Lucy under there? Lucy! Lucy!’ She did not wait for a response – she was hysterical. ‘Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!’

‘Look!’ I said. ‘You just have to let me check that everything is safe.’ I was worried that Lucy might be trapped beneath our carriage.

About the Author: Ian Sansom is the author of the Mobile Library Mystery Series. As of 2016, he has written three books in a series that will comprise a projected forty-four novels.

He is a frequent contributor to, and critic for, The Guardian and the London Review of Books.

He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, where he was a fellow of Emmanuel College. He is a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick and teaches in its Writing Program.

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