Five Books, Five Songs: Doing the Lambeth Walk

“We play a different way
Not like you, but a bit more gay . . .”

Poor Sophie and her family have a lot to contend with in The FitzOsbornes in Exile, what with governesses trying to turn them into young ladies and aunts trying to marry them off to vile bachelors and assassins trying to shoot them. It’s a good thing they have Julia to distract them from their worries. For instance, she tells the FitzOsbornes all about Me and My Girl, which she has just seen in the West End, and then she teaches them her favourite song and dance from the show. Here’s a clip from a more recent Broadway production, starring Robert Lindsay as Bill, the Cockney barrow boy who shows the Mayfair toffs how to do the Lambeth Walk.

More in Five Books, Five Songs:

1. The Rage of SheepHester’s Request
2. A Brief History of MontmarayThe Sea Is Writhing Now
3. The FitzOsbornes in Exile – Doing The Lambeth Walk
4. The FitzOsbornes at WarWe’ll Meet Again
5. The Work-in-Progress – Through The Large Four-Chambered Heart

Five Books, Five Songs: The Sea Is Writhing Now

“Under the water, I saw it lying there
Creamy skin, lots of flowing golden hair
It was alive, that I know
I saw it gesture to me with the ebb and the flow . . .”

'Ophelia' (1895) by Paul Albert Steck

If you’ve read A Brief History of Montmaray, those lyrics might bring to mind a certain spooky scene (actually, several spooky scenes) in the book, especially if you replace “golden hair” with “raven hair”. The lines are from a beautiful and haunting song called From A Million Miles by Single Gun Theory.

I’m not sure how well-known Single Gun Theory is outside Australia (not that the band was ever terribly famous within Australia), but apparently their music has featured in several films and television series. If you like the dreamy, ethereal sound of From A Million Miles, you will probably enjoy Like Stars In My Hands, the 1991 album featuring that song, and their subsequent album, Flow, River Of My Soul. Single Gun Theory hasn’t produced an album since 1994, but lead vocalist Jacqui Hunt released her debut solo album a few years ago.

More in Five Books, Five Songs:

1. The Rage of SheepHester’s Request
2. A Brief History of Montmaray – The Sea Is Writhing Now
3. The FitzOsbornes in ExileDoing The Lambeth Walk
4. The FitzOsbornes at WarWe’ll Meet Again
5. The Work-in-Progress – Through The Large Four-Chambered Heart

Favourite Books And TV, Plus A Book Giveaway

The Book Smugglers kindly invited me to write a guest post about my favourite books and TV of 2012. My chosen favourites won’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog, but you can read my post here. The Book Smugglers are also giving away a copy of the Vintage Classics edition of A Brief History of Montmaray, with entries closing on January 13, 2013.

The Spent Deep Feigns Her Rest . . .

Today’s poem is by Rudyard Kipling, who held some very unappealing beliefs about war and empire-building and The White Man’s Burden, but also wrote some excellent children’s books. He even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. This particular poem is quoted by Sophie in A Brief History of Montmaray, and is best read aloud while stomping about the deck of a sailing ship.

Warning: this poem may be seen by some as amoral, as the narrator firmly declares that he does not want to work in a church.

The Bell Buoy

They christened my brother of old—
And a saintly name he bears—
They gave him his place to hold
At the head of the belfry-stairs,
Where the minster-towers stand
And the breeding kestrels cry.
Would I change with my brother a league inland?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

In the flush of the hot June prime,
O’er sleek flood-tides afire,
I hear him hurry the chime
To the bidding of checked Desire;
Till the sweated ringers tire
And the wild bob-majors die.
Could I wait for my turn in the godly choir?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

When the smoking scud is blown—
When the greasy wind-rack lowers—
Apart and at peace and alone,
He counts the changeless hours.
He wars with darkling Powers
(I war with a darkling sea);
Would he stoop to my work in the gusty mirk?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not he!

There was never a priest to pray,
There was never a hand to toll,
When they made me guard of the bay,
And moored me over the shoal.
I rock, I reel, and I roll—
My four great hammers ply—
Could I speak or be still at the Church’s will?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

The landward marks have failed,
The fog-bank glides unguessed,
The seaward lights are veiled,
The spent deep feigns her rest:
But my ear is laid to her breast,
I lift to the swell—I cry!
Could I wait in sloth on the Church’s oath?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

At the careless end of night
I thrill to the nearing screw;
I turn in the clearing light
And I call to the drowsy crew;
And the mud boils foul and blue
As the blind bow backs away.
Will they give me their thanks if they clear the banks?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not they!

The beach-pools cake and skim,
The bursting spray-heads freeze,
I gather on crown and rim
The grey, grained ice of the seas,
Where, sheathed from bitt to trees,
The plunging colliers lie.
Would I barter my place for the Church’s grace?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

Through the blur of the whirling snow,
Or the black of the inky sleet,
The lanterns gather and grow,
And I look for the homeward fleet.
Rattle of block and sheet—
‘Ready about—stand by!’
Shall I ask them a fee ere they fetch the quay?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

I dip and I surge and I swing
In the rip of the racing tide,
By the gates of doom I sing,
On the horns of death I ride.
A ship-length overside,
Between the course and the sand,
Fretted and bound I bide
Peril whereof I cry.
Would I change with my brother a league inland?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

'Storm on the Sea' by Johannes Christiaan Schotel, c 1825
‘Storm on the Sea’ by Johannes Christiaan Schotel, c 1825

Book Banned, Author Bemused

I’ve previously written about my books being edited so that the vocabulary, punctuation and spelling make sense to overseas readers. However, I didn’t mention another issue, which is that different countries often have very different cultural values. Contrast, for example, attitudes (and legislation) in Australia and the United States regarding gun ownership, capital punishment and universal healthcare. And also, book banning.

'The FitzOsbornes at War' North American editionEarlier this year, I was interviewed by Magpies (an Australian journal about literature for children and teenagers) and was asked about the reaction of US readers to the epilogue of The FitzOsbornes at War. As the book hadn’t yet been released in the US, I talked about reactions to the previous two books. I said I’d always expected some US reviewers and readers would object to my gay and bisexual characters, but that I’d been surprised by some of the things they’d also deemed ‘controversial’ – for example, that some of my characters were atheists or socialists, that not all of the married couples were happily married, and that there was a brief discussion of contraception. One US reviewer of The FitzOsbornes in Exile complained at length about the “sketchy moral questions that permeate the book” and hoped that there’d be some signs of moral improvement in Book Three. Um . . . well, not really.

But I suppose it depends on how you define ‘moral’. I think The FitzOsbornes at War is all about morality, but I quite understand that some readers won’t approve of some of the characters’ actions. It’s a novel full of conflict and drama and people in extreme circumstances making difficult (and occasionally stupid) decisions. But reading about characters doing things that you regard as against your own personal moral code is not the same as doing those things yourself. For instance, teenagers reading about a gay character will not suddenly turn gay (unless they already are gay, in which case what they read will make no difference to who they are, but might possibly make them feel less alone). Will reading about such ‘immoral’ behaviour make the behaviours seem more ‘normal’, more ‘acceptable’? Well, maybe. The US librarian who’s pulled The FitzOsbornes at War off her library shelves certainly seems to think so.

Note: Sorry, I’m going to have to include plot spoilers for The FitzOsbornes at War here. If you haven’t read the book but are planning to read it, you might want to skip the next seven paragraphs of this post.

I’m not going to link to the librarian’s review, because I don’t want anyone to go over there and hassle her. (Not that you would – I know the people who regularly visit this blog are always respectful and courteous, even when they disagree with a post – but just in case someone else does.) Still, I found the librarian’s reasons for removing the book really interesting, so I would like to quote from her review, which awarded the book one star out of five:

“Does it not bother anyone that this novel seems to have characters that are entirely amoral? I was wondering whether to overlook the PG13 content and language because of the educational aspects of this well researched historical fiction World War II novel, but really–I just have to wonder about everyone being okay with the gay king living with his wife and his wife’s lover and their children in happy wedded bliss (This was a recommended book in the Parent’s Choice awards!)…Sorry this one is not staying at our library.”

Firstly, as far as I know, the book isn’t recommended in the Parents’ Choice awards. A Brief History of Montmaray was, several years ago, but The FitzOsbornes at War hasn’t been.

Secondly, is it just me or does it read as though it’s okay to have a gay character in a book, but only if he’s utterly miserable? Heaven forbid that gay people and their children could ever live in “happy wedded bliss”, either in books or in real life. Oh, wait, some people’s version of heaven does forbid it . . .

Thirdly, if the “content and language” is regarded by the librarian as PG13, doesn’t that mean that this book should be okay to shelve in the Young Adult fiction section? Shouldn’t it be suitable for readers over thirteen, with some parental guidance if necessary? Can’t teenage readers and their parents decide for themselves whether they want to read this book?

Fourthly, does this librarian truly believe the characters in The FitzOsbornes at War are “entirely amoral”? The word ‘amoral’ doesn’t mean ‘disagrees with my own moral values’. It refers to someone who has no understanding of morality, no sense of right and wrong. I’m assuming the librarian is referring to Toby, Julia and Simon, given the reference to the “gay king” and his family (although, who knows, perhaps Veronica and Sophie are included in the condemnation, for having had sexual experiences outside marriage). Really, these characters are “amoral”? In a novel that also contains Hitler, Stalin and Franco? So, should all books with amoral characters be banned from libraries? I’m guessing that particular library doesn’t have a copy of Richard III or Macbeth, either. (Not that I’m for one moment suggesting that my novels approach the literary quality of the works of William Shakespeare. But it seems ‘literary quality’ isn’t a factor in determining which books are stocked at this library, anyway.)

(Fifthly, and quite irrelevantly, did the librarian really describe Simon as the “wife’s lover”? Poor Toby! You’d think he’d have more of a claim as Simon’s lover than Julia, after all those years.)

This is where the cultural difference thing comes in, because I am trying, and failing, to imagine a librarian in an Australian public library taking The FitzOsbornes at War off her library’s shelves – not because a library patron had complained, but because the librarian herself thought the book ‘amoral’. Australia has a long history of banning books, but it would be very unusual for a book in an Australian public library to be challenged or banned nowadays, particularly if the only objection to the book was that it contained a gay character who was happy.

Still, I’m in pretty good company. Here are some of the books that were most frequently banned or challenged in US libraries between 2000 and 2009:

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451? Seriously, a novel about books being outlawed in America is on the US banned books list? I can only shake my head and turn to John Stuart Mill, who’s quoted on the American Library Association’s website:

“. . . But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Holiday Book Giveaway Winners

Thank you to all those who shared their favourite holiday reads with us. I am especially impressed that each time I hold a giveaway these days, there’s at least one reader who takes the time to share her favourite books with us and doesn’t even want to be entered into the contest because she’s previously won a book. Because that’s the sort of generous, selfless reader who hangs out at this blog. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Rockinlibrarian for her tireless efforts in promoting Montmaray and for being the best American Ambassador that Montmaray has ever had. (Okay, she’s the only American Ambassador that Montmaray has ever had, but that just makes her job more challenging, because she has to make it up as she goes along.)

Congratulations to Kim, Elizabeth and Genevieve, who have each won a Vintage Classics edition of A Brief History of Montmaray. To those who missed out this time, keep an eye on The Book Smugglers, because they’ll be giving away a copy of the book soon. (Well, sometime in the next few weeks. I’ll put up a link here when it happens.)

Vintage Classics Holiday Book Giveaway

I still have a few copies of the Vintage Classics edition of A Brief History of Montmaray. I’m sure they’d be happier spending Christmas with someone who’d appreciate them than sitting by themselves in a dark box in my wardrobe, so I’m having a holiday book giveaway this week.

'A Brief History of Montmaray' Vintage Classic edition

For a chance to win one of these three books, leave a comment below telling us about a good read for the holidays. I’ll leave it up to you to define ‘good read’ and ‘holidays’. (As for me, I’m thinking that if I have some spare reading time these holidays, I’d like to try the first book of the Mapp and Lucia series by E. F. Benson, and maybe Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.)

Conditions of entry:

1. This is an international giveaway. Anyone can enter.
2. Make sure the email address you enter on the comment form is a valid email account that you check regularly, so I can contact you if you win (no one will be able to see your email address except me, and I won’t show it to anyone else). Please don’t include your real residential or postal address anywhere in the comment. However, it would be nice if you mentioned which country you live in, because I’m curious about who reads this blog.
3. The three winners will be chosen at random, unless there are three or fewer comments – in which case, it won’t be random and all will win prizes.
4. This contest and/or promotion is not sponsored or authorised by Random House Australia. Random House Australia bears no legal liability in connection with this contest and/or promotion. (My Australian publishers say I have to put this bit in.)
5. Entries close at the end of Saturday, 1st of December, 2012. The winners will be emailed then, and I will send off the winners’ books as soon as possible after that. (Winners should receive the books before Christmas, but I can’t guarantee it.)

This giveaway has now closed. The winners can be found here.

Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart

I am more of a dog person than a cat person, but I was completely charmed by Christopher Smart’s ode to his cat Jeoffry, when I first read it a few years ago. The Jeoffry verses are part of a much longer work, Jubilate Agno1, which was written sometime between 1759 and 1763. Christopher and Jeoffry were incarcerated at St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics at the time, which may account for what Robert Pinsky calls the “oddball, manic seriousness” of the poem.

Poor Christopher Smart died in a debtor’s prison a few years later, and Jubilate Agno was not published until 1939. Naturally, Rupert Stanley-Ross loved it and learned the Jeoffry section by heart, which is why he’s able to quote from it in The FitzOsbornes at War. There wasn’t room to quote the entire Jeoffry section in that book, so here it is, for those who are interested.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-paws of any quadrupede.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually — Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in musick.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is affraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

'Six studies of a cat' by Thomas Gainsborough
‘Six studies of a cat’ by Thomas Gainsborough, 1763–70


  1. The Jeoffry segment can be found in Fragment B, part 4.

Miscellaneous Montmaravian Memoranda

'The FitzOsbornes at War' North American edition The FitzOsbornes at War has been getting some nice reviews in North America, including a starred review in Kirkus and reviews at The Book Smugglers and Tea Cozy.

I also loved this post about the British Ministry of Food at The Children’s War, which was inspired by Sophie FitzOsborne’s wartime job. There’s an inspirational advertising poster (“HELP WIN THE WAR ON THE KITCHEN FRONT”), a photo of a Victory garden, a video discussing the Ministry of Food, and best of all, some examples of the Food Facts that were published in The Times (“Good News About Carrots”). The Children’s War is also a terrific resource if you’re looking for children’s and YA books about the Second World War.

Meanwhile, over at My Book, The Movie, I’ve been talking about the (hypothetical) casting of the (hypothetical) movie of The FitzOsbornes at War.

And I’ve now set up a Montmaray Q & A page for anyone who wants to ask me questions about the series (beware, it contains plot spoilers for all three books, especially the last book).