Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Change to this blog

The information in this blog has now been duplicated in Peter Kenny : The Notebook. Please go there for more notes on Guernsey literature. I was writing overlapping blogs, which needed to me combined for my sanity.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Toad and The Donkey

Just a quick update to say that I received a note from Geraint Jennings that his book with Jan Marquis I mentioned in this post is now published. More information here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Listening to a podcast of the BBC Radio 4 programme In our time, hosted by the excellent Melvyn Bragg about Foxe's book of Martyrs first published 1563. This is a book I'd only vaguely heard about. It contains illustrations of Christian martyrs in the act of being executed. My ears pricked up when one of the contributors started talking about Perotine Massey, a Guernsey woman burned, who gave birth during the awful procedure. The baby was tossed back into the flames too.

Just found these pictures of Guernsey burnings from the Book of Martyrs. Perotine is the top one. "A lamentable spectacle of three women, with a sely(?) infant brasting out of the Mothers Wombe, being first taken out of the fire, and cast in agayne, and so all burned together in the Isle of Garnesey. 1556 July 18."

Much more can be found on this matter here on this Guernsey Museums page.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guernsey: year zero

I was sent recently by Tony Gallienne an essay called Guernseyness: In search of a Guernsey Identity (written as A C Gallienne). It is a remarkably thoughtful and sometimes lyrical piece which struggles with the idea of Guernsey identity, and the loss of Guernésiais as the dominant language.

I quote here from the essay, which was a first prize winner in the Guernsey Eisteddfod.

The granite bedrock of communal identity, to use the metaphor again, is language. By this measure I was disinherited from my Guernseyness the day that I was born. And not only me but my generation. Born in the nineteen fifties to Guernsey-French speaking parents we were brought up not to speak our parents’ own language. I heard it all about me – my parents spoke to each other in it – but it was out of reach. I could understand but could not speak. I had been made culturally autistic. I had been made dumb to the language that communicated the life about me. A language which could trace its roots back through the recent trauma of German occupation when, indiscriminate of source, it had incorporated the word kaput (Ch’est tche kaput), back through the centuries to Rollo, the Norman pirate who was given the Duchy of Normandy in 912 A.D., who dropped his Scandinavian tongue (what transmutation of identity was this – perhaps the same as ceasing Guernsey-French in favour of English) and adopted the langue d’Oil tongue of the native population of northern France (A few Nordic words were retained though and remain as part of the now fading language – words like mielles (sand dunes), dehus (dolmens), vraic (seaweed). In the case of vraic it may have just managed to jump into the Guernsey-English idiom and so may survive a bit longer). And further back to roots in the soup of Latin and Celtic and Frankish vernacular.

Guernsey-French was a mature language drenched in the lives that had been lived on the island over centuries, vowel sounds and consonant combinations with no exact parallel in French or English, phrases and sayings which used the local events of life to communicate some essence or other of thought – surely this must be an aspect of Guernseyness; the internal use of reference points – Guernsey culture taking its own experiences to use as expressions of its nature. I found these two entries in the Dictionnaire Anglais-Guernesiais: for the word “lengthy” – “en avant ni but ni fin ‘coum les pereieres de Jacques Ozaunne” (to have no ending like James Ozanne’s prayers) - Mr Ozanne was a Wesleyian preacher; and for the word “paunch”: “aen ventre de Doyen” (Dean’s paunch) – a well known country ecclesiastic of the late 19th Century was noted for the huge size of his belly which gave rise to the

And yet for all its vigour and history Guernsey-French has been given up without a struggle; pushed away, consciously severed, broken by the twentieth century. Guernésiais was vibrant but unprotected, a peasant language of unwritten rhythms and syntax which has had no shield against the long deep night of evacuation and occupation (what tests of expression to maintain the native tongue), and then the long attrition of the homogenising onslaught of the last fifty years. When I was born my parents, early in their adult lives, already knew that their own language was fading and that their children’s Guernseyness was going to be different to their own.

Their decision not to teach me the patois would sever a link with unknown ancestors. I was to become the ancestor of a new inheritance, of a new Guernseyness. My birth year was Year Zero.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Victor Hugo arrives at Guernsey

The Expulsion of Victor Hugo, by Jean Le Pelley, which originally appeared in the Transactions of La Society Guernesaise for 1970. Contains this glimpse into Victor Hugo's arrival on Guernsey during a storm. I love this portrayal of the great man's trunk with all his writings being in such jeopardy. In this description Le Pelly quotes Victor Hugo's son, François-Victor Hugo (known as Tòto) who wrote an account called Normandie Inconnue.

We looked back to where Jersey must be. Indeed we could just see under the cloud the line of the coast floating on the waters. It slid away and disappeared. We saw another line glowing in the darkness ahead... It was Guernsey! ... against the raging sea our steamer forged ahead, and an hour or so later slowed up, and then halted, in front of a faery like town, picturesquely staged up steep hill slopes... With its old Norman Roofs, with the proud Gallic cock on its church spire, Saint Pierre Port has indeed an air of home for us French refugees, which is indeed irresistible. The very name is a Welcome; remember that Saint Peter keeps the doors of Paradise!

Now all my father's precious manuscripts were in one huge trunk which he could not bear to let out of his sight. In the kind of weather we were suffering it was a terrible decision, that of entrusting all these unpublished masterpieces to a little cockle shell of a boat... Father had to decide to gamble twenty years of work and hand it over to the caprice of the waves. He took that chance.

And we climbed down to the boat that waited at the foot of the gangway, swinging ten foot up to us and ten foot away from us with each wave. Two burly matlows slung the trunk carelessly down, and perched it on the bows of the boat, with no more concern that they would have done with a bale of cotton or a basket of cod.

It was dreadful--for some minutes the trunk wobbled on the breakers... I could see the Contemplations disappearing under ten foot of water. But luckily there is a Providence which watches over Poets. Though the storm raged fiercely, more fiercely than ever, we landed safely on the quay.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Launching 'A Guernsey Double'

Back from Guernsey now after a very successful launch of A Guernsey Double, the publication of which was supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission. Perhaps most enjoyably we managed to get on BBC Guernsey with Jenny Kendall-Tobias twice. She's an excellent radio host and a lovely woman, and we did an entire two hour show with her. What we couldn't have predicted was that she would love our work so much.

The book launch itself was great fun too, and we were introduced by Jane Mosse who did a perfect job, and the event was hosted in The Greenhouse in St Peter Port which is a wonderful venue above the tourist information building - and we signed dozens of books right away. There is a buzz about seeing your book in a shop window, in this case The Guernsey Press shop, where we did a signing the next day.

The only blank we got was from The Guernsey Press itself, who appear to have little interest in a burgeoning literary scene that's right under its nose.

Online, a the first edition of A Guernsey Double is currently available from -- and before too long it will be on Amazon too.

Below Richard and JKT in our first BBC interview, me in reception, a book display.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Guernsey Double -- official launch

Have been somewhat diverted from working on the Anthology due to the fact that Richard Fleming and I have now finalised the contents of A Guernsey Double, our two person collection of poetry about Guernsey. The book is in two halves, my bit is called The Boy Who Fell Upwards, and Richard's The Man Who Landed.

The launch for this will fittingly be in St Peter Port on July 1st 2010, in the Greenhouse at 5:30. Every poem in the collection is directly related to the island, and Guernsey very much is the star of the collection.

We were lucky enough to get Professor Edward Chaney to write us a generous introduction, in which he says:
"Not since the extraordinarily poetic Book of Ebenezer le Page has a single volume made the soul of the island so unremittingly its focus. The results are powerfully moving: a work that deals with both losing a home and finding one. Two sides of the same coin. For Guernsey people, or visitors, this book is a rich addition to their experience of the island."
Naturally Richard and I looking forward to this a great deal. The book is a double fronted concept, which has two front covers. The name A Guernsey Double derives from the fact that there are two poets in it, is that doubles were coins, which were still legal tender into 1960s. However Jane Mosse has also been very involved, not least in proofing and editing. Without her help, for example, patois might have appeared (disastrously) as patios in the text.

Below, the double fronted cover, designed by Betsy Alvarez the barcode and isbn to be dropped into the bottom right hand corner.