Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting a stop on the
The Museum of You Blog Tour
Hi Carys, welcome to Jaffareadstoo. Thanks so much for inviting us to be part of your exciting blog tour and thank you for sharing this guest post about Mrs Mackerel with us today...
The Museum of You – Meet Mrs Mackerel
I’m lucky to have quite a few older women in my life. There’s nothing benign or retiring about any of them; they’re of Jenny Joseph’s generation, women who are (metaphorically, at least) wearing purple. They enjoy a few drinks and a good laugh; they’re sometimes cheeky, often awkward, and extremely independent.
My grandmother died in her sleep ten years ago, a half packed suitcase beside her bed – she was getting ready to go on another cruise. She was 90 years old, fierce and determined, with a keen sense of humour.
In 2013 my other grandmother had a brain haemorrhage. She was very lucky; she had emergency surgery at the Walton Centre and made an excellent recovery. During the weeks and months that followed I finished editing A Song for Issy Bradley, and I took my Gran to numerous follow-up appointments. One of those appointments was with a doctor who looked about 12 years old. His name was Doctor Mackerel. I don’t remember much about the appointment because I was thinking about his name. Afterwards, in the car on the way home, I told my Gran that there was going to be a Mrs Mackerel in my next book and I started to imagine her.
The Museum of You is, at times, a sad novel, but I wanted it to also be funny. I hope Mrs Mackerel provides some moments of amusement. She is a LITTLE BIT DEAF and, as a result, operates on two settings: loud – for normal words, and EXTRA LOUD – for the words she wants to be certain have been heard.
Mrs Mackerel calls the cinema THE PICTURES. She hasn’t been to THE PICTURES since the Odeon on Lord Street closed in 1979. Her favourite films are usually about the past because it is WHOLESOME and GOOD CLEAN FUN, even when terrible things happen. Films she has especially enjoyed include Les Miserables, which she pronounces like it’s named after an unhappy man called Les – SUCH LOVELY SINGING – and The Great Gatsby – SUCH LOVELY COSTUMES. The fact that neither film has a happy ending doesn’t bother her at all.
Mrs Mackerel is part protector and part provocateur; both an irritant and an inspiration. The novels I enjoy the most are those that offer light and shade; books that make me smile and leave me with a lump in my throat. I hope The Museum of You is that kind of book.
The Museum of You is available from your local bookshop and online.
A moving and surprisingly funny novel – The Independent
The Museum of You – Excerpt
When she got home from the museum Dad was kneeling in the hall. He’d unscrewed the radiator and his thumb was pressed over an unfastened pipe as water gushed around it. The books and clothes and newspapers that used to line the hall had been arranged in small piles on the stairs. Beside him, on the damp carpet, was a metal scraper he’d been using to scuff the paper off the wall.
‘Just in time!’ he said. ‘Fetch a bowl. A small one, so it’ll fit.’
She fetched two and spent the next fifteen minutes running back and forth to the kitchen emptying one bowl as the other filled, Dad calling, ‘Faster! Faster! Keep it up, Speedy Gonzalez!’ His trousers were soaked and his knuckles grazed, but he wasn’t bothered. ‘Occupational hazard,’ he said, as if it wasn’t his day off and plumbing and stripping walls was his actual job.
Once the pipe had emptied he stood up and hopped about for a bit while the feeling came back into his feet. ‘I helped Colin out with something this morning,’ he said. ‘The people whose house we were at had this dado rail thing – it sounds posh, but it’s just a bit of wood, really – right about here.’ He brushed his hand against the wall beside his hip. ‘Underneath it they had stripy wallpaper, but above it they had a different, plain kind. It was dead nice and I thought, we could do that.’
Dad found a scraper for her. The paint came off in flakes, followed by tufts of the thick, textured wallpaper. Underneath, was a layer of soft, brown, backing-paper which Dad sprayed with water from a squirty bottle. When the water had soaked in, they made long scrapes down the wall, top to bottom, leaving the backing paper flopped over the skirting boards like ribbons of skin. It felt like they were undressing the house.
The bare walls weren’t smooth. They were gritty, crumbly in places. As they worked, a dusty smell wafted out of them. It took more than an hour to get from the front door to the wall beside the bottom stair. That’s where Dad uncovered the heart. It was about as big as Clover’s hand, etched on the wall in black, permanent marker, in Dad’s handwriting: Darren + Becky 4ever.
‘I’d forgotten,’ he murmured. And then he pulled his everything face. The face he pulls when Uncle Jim is drunk. The face he pulls when they go shopping in March and the person at the till tries to be helpful by reminding them about Mother’s Day. The face which reminds her that a lot of the time his expression is like a plate of leftovers.
She didn’t say anything, and although she wanted to, she didn’t trace the heart with her fingertips. Instead, she went up to the bathroom and sat on the boxed, pre-lit Christmas tree dad bought in the January sales. When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories. That’s not to say it’s always sad – there are happy things, too. When she was a baby Dad had a tattoo of her name drawn on his arm in curly, blue writing, and underneath he had a green, four-leaf clover. She has such a brilliant name, chosen by her mother because it has the word LOVE in the middle. That’s not the sort of thing you go around telling people, but it is something you can remember if you need a little boost; an instant access, happiness top-up card – it even works when Luke Barton calls her Margey-rine. Clover thought of her name and counted to 300.
When she went downstairs Dad had recovered his empty face and she couldn’t help asking a question, just a small one.
‘Is there any more writing under the paper?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘She didn’t do a heart as well?’
‘Help me with this, will you?’
They pulled the soggy ribbons of paper away from the skirting and put them in a bin bag. The house smelled different afterwards. As if some old sadness had leaked out of the walls.
You can discover more about Carys and her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @CarysBray or visit her on Facebook
Huge thanks to the author for her invitation to be part of this lovely blog tour.
Do visit the other stops on the tour for more exciting book content.
Do visit the other stops on the tour for more exciting book content.
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