Kate's Writing Blog

Pod, and Charles Dickens

Another year gone, but although my blog entries dried up because of Internet connection problems, it does not mean that I haven't been busy.

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that two pieces of I wrote for competitions in 2010 were to be published in an anthology. These pieces were not autobiographical: I used the challenge of entering competitions to practise writing fiction. The anthology of short fiction was published by Leaf Books in 2011. It's called Pod and can be purchased from Leaf Books for £9.99 plus £1 postage & packing in the UK. ISBN 978-1-905599-68-4.

I have been collecting material for my autobiography. Part of this process involved spending several weeks in my parents' loft during early February 2012, sorting through old photographs and letters. While I stayed with my parents, I bought a Sony digital recorder and began interviewing my father about his ancestors.

Charles Dickens (circa 1868)
Charles Dickens was in the news while I was in England because 7 February 2012 was the 200th anniversary of his birth. One interesting item of family history that came up during the recordings of my father was that his maternal grandfather, when aged seven and living in Whitechapel, was taken to one of Dickens' readings by my father's great-grandfather. Dickens gave his last reading at 8.00 pm on 15 March 1870. (He died on 9 June 1870 after a stroke.)

From 11 January to 15 March 1870, Dickens gave 12 readings at St James's Hall. This hall, which opened in 1858, was London's principle concert hall and could hold 2,000 people. It had excellent acoustics. Located between Regents Street and Piccadilly, it had frontages on both sides.

For Dickens' readings, tickets were priced at 7 shillings (sofa stalls), 5 shillings (stalls), 3 shillings (balcony seats) and one shilling (general admission). I wonder where my great-grandfather and his father sat?

St James's Hall, London (1858)
St James's Hall, London (1858)

St James's Hall was demolished in 1905 and the Piccadilly Hotel was built in its place. A new St James's Hall was later opened at Great Portland Street.

In Dickens' former home at 48 Doughty Street (which is open to the public), there is a drawing of him giving his last reading. Perhaps my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were there in the audience that evening. I visited Dickens' House twice while I was in London, once to look around and a second time just to sit in the cafe and look down the hallway, which Dickens must have passed along daily during the three years he rented the house in the late 1830s.

Dickens' last public reading
Dickens' last public reading

Dickens wrote Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickelby (1838-39) at 48 Doughty Street, and his two eldest daughters were born there.

Whereas Leo Tolstoy praised Dickens' work, William Wordsworth thought Dickens a "very talkative, vulgar young person"!

To celebrate the anniversary of Dickens' birth, I'm currently reading A Christmas Carol and Hard Times. At St James's Hall, Dickens read from A Christmas Carol and Pickwick Papers.

While in London I visited the British Film Institute and bought the musical Oliver and the classic David Lean film Oliver Twist for my children; I shall also show these to the schoolchildren at Empress Mentewab School. Having watched Oliver, my children now regularly burst into song "Food, glorious food!" and they say "Please, Mum, I want some more".

The images of Charles Dickens (photographed circa 1868) and St James's Hall were taken from Wikipedia. The drawing of Dickens' last reading was photographed by me at 48 Doughty Street.

I have a new Lifelines tutor and must finish the course by the end of November. With frequent power cuts, I often end up writing by the light of two candles, after the children are in bed and all is quiet.