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Anna Scher MBE: drama teacher

27 Apr

Everyone has a story. Drama teacher Anna Scher has helped thousands of Islington kids develop their acting skills and confidence. An astonishing number of her students have gone on to become famous actors, with many taking key roles in Eastenders. So how does Anna nurture hard work and talent by running acting classes inspired by her catchphrase “integration through improvisation”? Interview by Nicola Baird.

Anna Scher, MBE

Anna Scher, MBE – who hass helped so many young Islington hopefuls make it big on stage, screen and TV.

Anna Scher’s reputation is formidable. She’s the drama teacher who set up an acting theatre for children that started the careers of Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson, Kathy Burke, Gary & Martin Kemp, Patsy Palmer, Susan Tully, Nathalie Cassidy and Gillian Taylforth. She’s also hosted TV shows in Denmark, won awards for peace work in Northern Ireland (1999) and been given the Freedom of the London Borough of Islington (2003). See Anna’s full c/v here

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week.

Despite knowing so many stars Anna is no prima donna, during Islington Faces lunch she comes across as the nicest person. We meet at Kigi Café on Caledonian Road, which Anna’s been using for the past 10-15 years.

A newspaper cutting showing Anna Sher meeting the Queen is on the wall at Kigi Cafe.

A newspaper cutting showing Anna Sher meeting the Queen is on the wall at Kigi Cafe.

Kigi Cafe is clearly a home-from-home as owner-waitress Guler serves homemade stuffed aubergine and then organises for Anna to take home roast chicken for dinner. On the wall nearest the counter is a framed newspaper cutting showing Anna collecting her MBE from the Queen in 2013 and a photo of Guler’s godson’s favourite boxer.

Anna, 71, has been in the acting business for a long time. “It’s been more than 40 years but I still get excited about teaching,” she says, admitting she’s already “gearing up for the 50th celebration in January 2018”.

Since 2009 her Islington drama classes for adults and children have been held at St Silas church at the top of Chapel Street market. This is also where she met her PA Cassie, and where Cassie met her boyfriend.

Kigi Cafe is a family run cafe on Caledonian Road serving delicious homecooked food.

Kigi Cafe is a family run cafe at 322 Caledonian Road serving delicious homecooked food and good coffeee.

Places Anna Scher loves in Islington

  • Kigi Café is a lovely family owned restaurant run by Mehmet, Umjet and his wife Guler. I practically always have the wonderful stuffed aubergine.
  • Fredericks in Camden Passage will be holding a breakfast event for local businesses on 10 June, and several football receptions on 12 June when the World Cup starts, during Islington Giving Week 2014.

    Fredericks in Camden Passage.

    I love Frederick’s in Camden Passage – I go once a month with my dear friend Alan Blaikley (songwriter who famously wrote Have I The Right and Xanadu, 1960s pop hits). It’s also where she celebrated with her husband Charles and son John after receiving an MBE in 2013.

  • The Little Angel Theatre is a joy for children and adults. It’s just lovely. You must interview Lynde Wright (who set it up with her husband in 1961), she’s one of the nicest people in the world. https://littleangeltheatre.com/
  • I like to do a big shop once a week at M&S with my dear friend Cassie.
  • The Almedia’s my fifth! Pierre Audin (the first director) came for a chat when he was setting it up in 1979 – a very nice man.

Life story
Anna began her career as a child actress in Cork. But when she was 14 her dentist father (who was born in Ireland but had Lithuanian roots) decided to move his family to Hove (Anna’s the eldest of four girls and a boy).

“I wanted to stay in Cork. I was the only Jewish girl in the convent but they made me feel very special. On the day we left all the students from St Angela’s College came to the harbour and waved me off. I was in tears knowing I wouldn’t see them again,” she says. “My father thought that being Jewish we would have more opportunity in England.”

After finishing grammar school at Hove, or “Hove Actually” as Anna mockingly calls it, her father made it clear that she could only train to be an actress “over his dead body. We drew a compromise whereby I went to Trent Park, Middlesex for a General Teacher’s Certificate specialising in drama. But then a funny thing happened; I found that I loved teaching. I had a great time at Trent Park. We walked from Oakwood tube. I made a wonderful friend, Hazel, who was on the music course and we then lived together in the second year. It was the 1960s and it was fun – I had mini skirts!”

When Anna moved to Islington to teach English and Drama at Ecclesbourne Junior School she found, “In 1968 Islington was a very rough and tumble area. The playground behaviour was not good. I tried to see the funny side of things. I remember one girl said to another student, ‘I’ll smash your face in’. I said ‘that’s not nice’ and the students got the funny side of it – humour is a great diffuser.”

“I asked the headmaster if I could run a lunch time drama club in the top art room of the school. He said yes. At the first class 70 children turned up including Pauline Quirke, then nine, and Linda Robson, 10.”*

“Seventy was the equivalent of two school classes and as a lot of the children were non readers improvisation was the method I used. I did a lot based on the number five. And I use that to this day, saying something like “Why are you always late?”. Script work can be very stilted.

The drama club’s success meant that students who’d left the school were coming back to it for classes, incurring the wrath of caretaker Mr Overington. “The head teacher said ‘Your drama club has got too big for this school, so I’m giving you a friendly ultimatum to have it for my kids only, or run it across the road.”

Q&A with Anna Scher

Q: Are all actors insecure?
Anna Scher: “Most actors are out of work for most of the time, so that has a negative effect on them…”

Q: Which actor do you really rate?
Anna Scher: Kathy Burke, a wonderful actor.

Q: Has your phrase “the smile is stronger than the smile” ever been proved wrong?
Anna Scher: “I was on Gloria Hunnerford’s show and saw Van Morrison in the foyer looking very morose. His songs are absolutely fabulous, I love Moondance and Brown Eyed Girl, but it didn’t work on him. It doesn’t always work – I was big enough to take it… and Gloria said he was in a foul mood.

Q: Should I send my kids to a drama class?
Anna Scher: “Drama classes are good for confidence.

Q: What helps you stay happy?
Anna Scher: “I used to be much more feisty and sharp. I try not to let anger get to me. One of my favourites quotations is ‘The soft answer turneth away wrath but grievous words stir up anger.’ (Book of Proverbs) It’s changed my life.

It was the push that got the Anna Scher Theatre School going, with its first independent home at Bentham Hall. By 1975 she had 1,000 pupils, and 5,000 on the waiting list – which gave her the impetus in 1976 to set up a charity and move to Bethany Hall – another old Methodist church – on Barnsbury Road. The next 20+ years saw the Anna Scher Theatre School’s influence spread

20160414_123722 (1)In 2000 Anna suffered from depression and stepped down from her role running the theatre school. Fully recovered two years later she wasn’t welcome back at the building – it is now known as the Young Actors Theatre. It was an unpleasant public fight covered by the local and national press, but many people rallied to Anna’s support at that time and even wanted to build her a new theatre. In the end that’s exactly what she got. Which is why you can now join an acting class at today’s Anna Scher Theatre school, run at St Silas’s, here.

Peace work
“I’ve done quite a lot of workshops abroad under the banner of integration through improvisation,” says Anna who has run sessions in Rwanda, Zimbabawe, South Africa, India, Northern Ireland, Lithuania (of which I am a quarter), Bosnia at Sarajevo, integrating Serb Croats and Muslims, and also Israel.”

“In Israel the peace village called Neve Sahlom Wahat Al Saldam (a mix of Hebrew and Arabic) invited me do some work with Jews and Muslims. In India I particularly wanted to work with Gandhi’s children – the untouchables – and I went to Northern Ireland seven times. Sometimes if there wasn’t a sponsor I’d go to a country’s Embassy in London and ask for contacts. Essentially it’s easy – you just go there and integrate,” says Anna quietly with her beaming smile.

There’s something about Anna Scher that makes anything seem possible.

In Islington it is easy to see how her influence has inspired so many kids to follow their dreams of making it big on the stage. It’s a bigger leap to understand how Anna had the energy and audacity to use improvisation in post-conflict zones to help Hindus and Muslims in India or Jews and Arabs in Israel heal bitter wounds by understanding each other better on a shared project.

“I’d bring a light suitcase of props,” says Anna brushing aside any idea that this might be a complicated – or dangerous – project. She even claims she kept control with a tambourine or a football rattle!

“I try to make everyone feel special. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said everyone’s a VSP (very special person) and that’s how I feel/ There’s a wonderful philosophy that all Africans have, summed up in the word Ubuntu. It means my connectedness is connected to your connectedness and kindness is paramount. I love that.”

At times of election, budget cuts and what sometimes seems like a very unsafe world it is truly heartening to know that kindness doesn’t just have a place, it can have a massive and beneficial impact. Now in Anna Scher style let’s try some improvisation: “What could you do to make yourself feel proud?”*

Words*
Also in that first drama club was Ray Burdiss, then 11, who became a professional actor/writer-director. In 2013 he wrote and directed the award-winning Wee Man, a Scottish gangster movie which featured The Auld Triangle on St Thomas’ Road, N4.

Also borrowing singer Heather Small’s song title, What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

 

 

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Alicia Montplaisir: fairy spirit and singer-songwriter

20 Apr

Everyone has a story. Canadian Alicia Montplaisir is able to perform her one-woman show, Walking My Heart Home – a mix of songs, poems and dance – at St Luke’s, West Holloway thanks to crowd funding, friends’ generosity and www.patreon.com fans. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Alicia Montplaisir performing. (c) alicia montplaisir

Alicia Montplaisir performing in February. (c) alicia montplaisir

To be honest Alicia Montplaisir’s c/v is slightly confusing. She’s a fairy from St Joseph de Sorel, a French-speaking part of Canada, who has been based in Islington since 2014. She’s also a licenced desire map facilitator (enabling her to help you find work and a purpose to your life in a manner prescribed by Danielle La Porte in the Desire Map). She’s also a singer song-songwriter based in N7.

No surprise then that when Islington Faces waited to meet Alicia at the new Barn café on Holloway Road I had no idea what to expect. Turns out that Alicia is a lovely woman. She’s wearing arty get-up, but that’s normal for London – and there’s not a hint of wings or wands.

But she’s clearly finding 10am a bit early for an interview.

“I’m not a morning person,” says Alicia sipping a freshly-squeezed orange juice (it’s Islington Faces who is mainlining black coffee). But there are several reasons for this. Often it’s because she is dealing with the severe pain caused by a chronic condition that can steal her energy. But it’s also because she sometimes works on songs at the very dead of night. Last May while rehearsing at 2am (2am!) on the public piano at St Pancras International station Alicia was recorded by a passer-by who popped it on to Time Out’s Facebook page. That clip went viral and has now been shared 172,000 times… “I was learning the Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga. It’s really hard to sing,” says Alicia who absolutely nails it in the video and is rewarded with spontaneous applause from two random passers-by and a couple of high-vis clad cleaners.

https://www.facebook.com/TimeOutLondon/videos/10152867962172405/ (May 2015)

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week.

Throughout the interview Alicia is unable to resist singing along to the radio, whatever tune comes up from Ed Sherrin to Rock n Roll. “My mother teaches music so I started learning piano when I was five,” she explains. “I never did any grades, but every year we performed. Then I started singing at eight, and around 11 had classical lessons. I just learned every song I could and performed everywhere,” she explains. By the time she was 18 she was able to take over her mum’s students when her mum took a break to look after her unwell mother.

Although Alicia, now 28, can teach and helps finance her shows, and cover her rent, by teaching French conversation to adults and French nursery rhymes to children she is adamant that, “For me creating and performing come before teaching. I do not intend to make a career out of teaching. But who knows?”

To keep her voice in practice she’s joined the choir at St Luke’s, Vox Holloway, which is currently focusing on gospel songs for a concert in June but has recently performed original material about mental health issues at a fundraiser for Islington Mind and performed at the Barbican during the Shakespeare Weekend on 6 March in A hum about mine ears, which was based on The Tempest.

Alicia Montplaisir rehearsing on the grand piano at St Luke's West Holloway.

Alicia Montplaisir rehearsing on the grand piano at St Luke’s West Holloway.

St Luke’s plays a big role in Alicia’s life. “I’m always there,” she says – making it the natural venue for her gigs (next date to be confirmed, see how to buy tickets below). “My concert is a very personal experience. I wrote the songs and there is some poetry and some dancing. I’ve had really positive feedback. After the performance people have said how touched they were and how they related to the material – it can be very healing which I’m glad about because I share very personal stories about pain and depression and one song is about a friend who died from suicide – so I bring up health, mental health and self-care.”

That’s why Alicia asks her audience to be 16+. “It’s a 70 minute solo piece in which I explore the darkness and light of self-discovery, love and growth. I don’t want to think about filtering myself so I may or may not curse during the concert. In my mind there is an age before 18 where those topics become important, 16 seemed reasonable to me and is loosely based on maturity more than age,” she says.

The Barn Cafe at 60 Holloway Road serves breakfast all day. It's got fab rustic decor and free wifi too. Find it just opposite St Mary's Church, close to Central Library.

The Barn Cafe at 60 Holloway Road serves breakfast all day. It’s got fab rustic decor and free wifi. Find it opposite St Mary’s Church, close to Central Library.

What does Alicia Montplaisir like doing in Islington?
Islington has a similar vibe to where I lived in Montreal for eight years, in the north east of the city.

  • Candid Café: A personal favourite when it comes to meeting friends in the afternoon or evenings. It opens at noon which suits me quite well! I love their sandwiches, the decoration and they usually play good music
  • The Barn Café, 60 Holloway Road: A new addition to my regular spots. They serve brunch all day which is an absolute joy when it comes to having breakfast around 3pm
  • St Luke’s church, Hillmarton Road: This is a second home. From dancing 5Rhythms to singing in Vox Holloway, I am also a member of the congregation. I regularly attend the Sunday service and have volunteered for the homeless night shelter during the winter
  • I know it’s just on the other side of the line but St Pancras International will always have a special place in my heart. All nighters playing piano in the station and meeting strangers from all over the world. It’s simply magic.

More about fairies
“Three years ago someone gave me a Tarot deck made of fairies painted by Brian Froud and that’s the way I was introduced,” explains Alicia who, when prompted, describes herself as a lone fairy, rather than a group-joining-fairy. “We have the material world with chairs and tables, but there’s a certain level of magic that you may not feel. So if someone says ‘Do you think fairies are real?’ It makes me laugh…” And then Alicia starts laughing and it is unclear whether she’s pulling my leg or whether it’s blindingly obvious that the room is full of fairies playing hide and seek.

There’s a good chance it might be the latter as Alicia adds cheerfully: “Fairies are just laughing at you. They pop in and out of nowhere. My fairy godmother will appear out of nowhere and then disappear saying ‘I’m off’. And if you ask ‘What kind of fairy are you’ a fairy Is likely to say ‘I’m not telling!’”

Like so many artists making a name for themselves Alicia is having to put up with a lot – she rents a shared house, and to save money lives in a shared room. “We each have a bed,” she says “and work around each other’s schedule in the morning.” She’s also doing all sorts of odd jobs including kids’ parties and French teaching, despite her poor health, to enable her to work on her songs and show. But there’s no hint of irritation at facing these challenges. Instead Alicia says, “ I’m learning the ropes of how to develop patron, thanks to crowd funding supported by her friends’ generosity and www.patreon.com where people pledge to support what I do. But I am very lucky and have got wonderful friends who sometimes give me extra money.”

Alicia Montplaisir may work on a financial shoestring but it’s one clearly brightened by fairy dust and her own amazing voice. Do go and like her Facebook page and, if you can, go along to the next show she holds at St Luke’s.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

Jane Tuely: landscape architect

6 Apr

Everyone has a story. Jane Tuely has lived in Islington since the early 1960s, when she first rented a room at 22 Packington Street, but she was brought up a long way from the city, in a very isolated part of rural Kent “at the bottom of a hill on the edge of Romney Marsh.” So how did she end up working on the development of Harlow New Town and later living in Highbury? Interview by Nicola Baird  

Jane Howell: xx

Jane Tuely: a life of art and plants.

“I always wanted friends,” explains Jane Tuely but for some years good friends were elusive thanks to the culture shock of being moved from a boarding prep school she loved and then sent to the local grammar school in Rye. “I didn’t like anyone and didn’t listen to radio or pop,” she says with her now very friendly smile. At 17 she went to Canterbury Art School which she also remembers “wasn’t fun. I shared a flat with a nice person but she was 12 years older than me. I was very shy and gauche and lots of the students lived miles away at the coastal towns of Whitstable, Margate and Sandwich so I never really saw them.”

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

Life improved when she moved to London and the Central School of Arts & Crafts at Holborn (now Central Saint Martins) where Jane studied graphic design and thrived in a more multicultural world. “I was such a country bumpkin it was wonderful to meet people who wore a sari,” she says.

After graduating she found work designing easy-to-read leaflets for the scientific instrument makers Hilger and Watts. “I was saving up to go to India. I earned £8 a week and I’d only saved £19,” she says “so when two friends told me they were in Athens and had discovered they could earn a living teaching I gave in my notice. A month later I was in Greece after trundling through Europe by train. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

A lithograph by Jane. It's signed Jane Tuely "I was so proud of my name until my husband did some research and found it was a 17th century spelling mistake."

A lithograph by Jane. It’s signed Jane Tuely (Jane’s original surname): “I was so proud of my name until my husband did some research and found it was a 17th century spelling mistake.”

In Athens, the friends taught English and learnt Greek from boyfriends but were “incredibly hard up. I never went to Crete, even though it would have cost only 80 drachmas (about £1).”

IMG_0253

From The joy of essex  (c) Pete May

 

New job
After a year Jane came back to England and “stayed with a friend [Louisa Nicholson, niece of the artist, Ben Nicholson] behind Liberty’s.

I didn’t know what to do so I talked my way into being a landscape architect – one of the first – and went to work at Harlow for three years where Freddie Gibberd was building the new town. It was very much a garden city. I was living in Soho and commuting out,” says Jane, adding “I enjoyed my job working in the drawing office and planting trees. We had wonderful conversations and were surrounded by cows, but it would have been dismal living in Harlow – I’d come home and go to the Academy cinema in Oxford Street.”

It may have been Soho, but Jane’s flat was basic. “It had no bathroom so we used the kitchen sink and the public baths. If we went up beyond the fire escape into the attic there was a smelly loo.”

Yehia El-Nemer: "As soon as these Highbury people see the sun they come here."

Oasis Café in Highbury Fields, run by Yehia El-Nemer, is one of Jane’s favourite places for coffee and a flapjack.

What services does Islington have for the partially sighted?

  • “I got good cane training at the sensory disability team at Archway but Islington is lousy for partially-sighted services. The day centre for people with sight loss on Balls Pond Road has closed down,” says Jane Tuely.
  • “I’ve a passion for talking books from RNIB,” says Jane Tuely.
  • Moorfields Eye Hospital is in the borough at 162 City Road, EC1.
  • This is a visual services directory compiled by Islington Council.

Picking roses
“I’m quite good at prickly plants because we used them in Harlow to protect areas from being vandalised,” explains Jane who broadened her plantsman knowledge when she became a woman garden labourer (real job title) for £9 a week in Kew Gardens. “The work was monotonous – I spent three months behind the Palm House deadheading roses,” says Jane demolishing the idyll, “but I picked off sprigs and by drawing them I remembered names and what happens to plants like cotoneaster.”

She also gave bunches of roses to the lavatory attendants. “What an opportunity, but they were terrified of their supervisor finding out!”

Love
“I wanted to settle down and that’s when I met David at a wedding in Oxford. He was a very quiet person. I’d been living with all sorts of people but he was the first I’d ever met who had been to university – all my friends were arty types,” explains Jane. After a few dates David asked Jane to join him on a package holiday to Czechoslovakia with five men and 27 women! By 1967 they were married: David was 40, Jane 30 and they bought a house in Highbury for £7,000.

Here the pair brought up their two children – sending both to William Tyndale Primary school. “No one plays outdoors now, but my children used to. They’d cycle round Highbury Fields,” adds Jane.

20160404_174502

Jane helped set up the Arvon Road allotments.

In the early 1970s and in spite of deteriorating eyesight, Jane made use of her gardening and landscape architecture know-how by offering to chair the new Arvon Road allotments which were owned by the Greater London Council. “We mended the fence and levelled the ground,” says Jane who no longer has an allotment but is happy that the group is going strong.

Although Jane is now registered blind, art is still important to her. “I’ve been unable to draw since about 1995, but I could still do monoprints for some years. I also did many linocuts and lithographs. It was very difficult to adjust sight loss, but the plus side is when people help me across the road – I often have mad conversations as they tell me their life story!”

In 2014, Jane generously donated a watercolour by Eric Ravilious to the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, which specialises in 1930s art.

Her mother had bought the painting from the artist for £20 – more than half a century later it was valued at £150,000.

“My daughter Victoria never liked it, and my son Philip did, but he’s living in Germany so I gave it to the people at the Fry Art Gallery in memory of my parents who knew Eric Ravilious. Ravilious’ children were at school with me,” explains Jane. “The painting is of Tea at Furlongs (1939). It’s the artist Peggy Angus’ cottage on the South Downs where I used to stay regularly. It was fairly squalid. I remember once there was a package on the table and when I opened it there was a piece of wedding cake that had been there for years. Peggy said the couple had already got three children!”

Jane Tuely is full of tales about the people she’s met during her life. Though this interview is just scratching the surface of the decades she’s lived here, it still reveals how people who have lived in Islington for years always have much more to say than just hello when you pass on the street.

Notes*
Sir Frederick Gibberd was a modernist architect who acquired the site for Harlow New Town in 1957 (when Jane was 20). You can visit a memorial garden in Harlow, see http://www.thegibberdgarden.co.uk/

Arvon Road allotments – there’s a waiting list for an allotment, but you can look around on Sunday 19 June at Open Garden Squares Weekend. The entrance is on Arvon Road, opposite Drayton Park School. 

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) died in Iceland as a war artist observing a search and rescue mission – plane lost in a storm. Find out more about the painting Tea at Furlongs here.

Fry Art Gallery is open April-October (check times). Fry Art Gallery, Castle Street, Saffron Walden, Essex.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

Richard Greening: Mayor of Islington 2015-16

30 Mar

Since 2002 Richard Green, has been one of three councillors representing Highbury West ward. For much of that time he’s also been working in local government. And now he’s also Islington’s Mayor – what’s motivating him? Interview by Nicola Baird

Richard Greening, Islington Mayor 2015-16

Richard Greening, Islington Mayor 2015-16 – back at work in late January after a fall in December forced him to take a month off. “People want to take selfies with me when I’m wearing my Mayoral robes – it’s the role of a minor celeb!” (c) Islington Council

Richard Greening may not play an instrument but music has had a profound impact on his life – from where he was born right up to his choice for the Mayor’s charity. Although he was brought up in Lichfield, Staffordshire, his first years of life were in a tied-cottage in the grounds of Windsor Castle. “My father was the assistant organist at St George’s chapel,” explains Richard who may be Islington’s Mayor but seems like a modest person despite his grand babyhood.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

“We moved when I was two, so I only have fragments of memories from then,” admits Richard, 58, in the kitchen of the Riversdale Road house where he lives with his wife, Patsy Bradbury – who moved here back in 1969.

Patsy Bradbury and Richard Greening with one of their cats, Roxy. Patsy was Mayor of Islington in the 1970s, while Richard is the current Mayor of Islington. “I’m unusual in having been both Mayor and Mayoress of Islington,” says Patsy.

Patsy Bradbury and Richard Greening with one of their cats, Roxy. Patsy was Mayor of Islington in the 1970s, while Richard is the current Mayor of Islington. “I’m unusual in having been both Mayor and Mayoress of Islington,” says Patsy.

The pair met in Islington in 1982 – and got married at the Town Hall in 2012.

Patsy Bradbury: “This was the builders’ house. The garden was the builders’ yard and Number 2 Wyatt Road was the office/stables.

Patsy Bradbury: “This was the builders’ house. The garden was the builders’ yard and Number 2 Wyatt Road was the office/stables.

They are an unusual power couple in that Patsy has also been Mayor of Islington (from 1972-73).

Where does Richard Greening like going in Islington?
As Councillor Richard Greening, Richard got to know Highbury West extremely well, but as Mayor he is enjoying getting to know many more people all over the borough.

  • Richard: Emirates Stadium is an amazing building and has atmosphere. Arsenal’s community work is good – they do a lot and say not a lot about it. Of course there’s a big campaign with the local Labour party and Citizens UK to get Arsenal to pay the living wage. They are paying their directly employed staff the London Living Wage and the main outstanding issue is with their contractors.
  • Richard: In Gillespie Park you could be almost anywhere – it’s surprisingly quiet and within that small area there is such a variety of nature. It’s a fantastic resource for Islington, and so is the Ecology Centre.
  • Richard & Patsy: We eat out sometimes at Au Lac, 13 Highbury Park
  • Richard: I like Round Square on Seven Sisters Road, opposite where the Red Rose used to be. It’s a really nice Chinese restaurant. They do a nice prawn dish and there are vegetable options. It’s also got a proper disabled loo. So few places have.
  • Mayor Richard Greening and his partner Patsy Bradbury are serious cat fans. They currently have two cats

    Mayor Richard Greening and his partner Patsy Bradbury are serious cat fans. They currently have two cats

    Richard: “We shop locally and use Highbury Butchers on Blackstock Road. There were three butchers when I first moved here. The couple who used to run Highbury Butchers had a hatch where the butcher’s wife took the money and they had the biggest cat…”

  • Patsy: ‘I’ve got MS and use a chair so I haven’t been on the tube for years because there are so few lifts. But I like the 19 bus. You can go on it all the way to Harrods, Cadogan Hall and The Royal Court Theatre (both in Sloane Square). I also use it to go to China Town. The 141 is a good route too which takes you to the Wesley Chapel, 49 City Road and Bunhill Fields, 38 City Road. I can’t always get on the first bus that comes if people with buggies won’t let me.
  • Richard & Patsy: “We’re looking forward to TfL’s step free access at Finsbury Park by 2018. But we may still not use the tube – you need a critical mass of tube stations you can access before most wheelchair users will want to go on the tube.”
Caption/ Despite the Mayor’s busy schedule, councillors continue representing their constituents. The weekend we meet Richard is due to run a ward surgery, and visit a newly established neighbourhood watch group. And that’s all before the Mayor’s Christmas rush.

Despite the Mayor’s busy schedule, councillors continue representing their constituents. The weekend Islington Faces met Richard (Nov 2016) he was due to run a ward surgery, and visit a newly established neighbourhood watch group. And that’s all before the Mayor’s Christmas rush. Unfortunately a fall saw him out of action for most of December/January. But he was back at work by late January, see this newspaper report.

“I never learnt an instrument as my father thought that music was a high risk career!” he says laughing. “That is partly why I chose Music First as my charity while I’m Mayor.”

According to his Islington Mayoral biography, Richard says: “Music First helps children in many ways and not just with music – it influences the other aspects of their lives. Last summer I attended a concert at the Hackney Empire organised by Music First. Children from many Islington schools were involved and both the children and the audience enjoyed the event immensely. I’ve also visited the music hub at Highbury Grove School. The energy and engagement in the rooms was palpable and I want to help many more Islington children enjoy music-making and the benefits that it brings them. So I have chosen Music First as my charity.”

Richard is good with figures – he studied Maths at Durham University. This led to IT, which he started working in back in 1977 before becoming a Highbury West councillor in 2002 while juggling with his work for the Improvement & Development Agency for local government until 2010. “At the IDeA I worked on the beacon council scheme helping councils to innovate and share good practice. I worked with a lot of rural councils and found that inner city Islington with small sites and rural areas had the same problem – unaffordable housing. The excellent work of rural councils in extracting affordable housing contributions from very small sites convinced me that the policy in Islington which at that time ignored sites of less than 10 units needed to change and could change.”

Last year he was Deputy Mayor, working with fellow Highbury West councillor Theresa Debono, who is also Labour. Now as Mayor, Richard hopes to raise £30,000 for the charity, so he’s running a dinner at Round Square on Seven Sisters Road on 11 February 2016. Anyone from Highbury Community Association/Islington Faces is welcome (see below for how to book tickets).

“Mayors have no power, but you do get to meet people who have power,” he says. Welcoming Arsenal FA cup winning team at the town hall steps and hosting the Duchess of Cambridge when she came to visit Chance UK were highlights for Richard. However it’s clear that he’s slightly bemused to find that: “People want to take selfies with me when I’m wearing my Mayoral robes – it’s the role of a minor celeb!”

  • Music First is the Mayor’s charity for 2015/16 – around £2,000 was raised at his fundraiser at the Round Square Café, 132 Seven Sisters Road (delicious Chinese meal, tickets £35pp) celebrating Chinese New Year. Find more info about the Mayor’s charity here.
  • In Islington a new Mayor is chosen annually (a councillor picked by the other councillors). For a full list of our borough’s mayors since 1980-81 see info here, provided by Islington.  Or see this longer list here dating back to 1900 (which includes George Samuel Elliott who was Mayor for a record-breaking 13 terms, nowadays it’s a one year office).
  • See the interview on Islington Faces with previous mayors including Barry Edwards (2013-14). Also on this Islington Faces post you can find a clip when Cllr Theresa Debono was Mayor (2014-15) and spoke at Islington Faces King’s Head event to celebrate the 100th interview.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

Angela Neustatter: writer

23 Mar

Everyone has a story. Journalist and author Angela Neustatter talks about the joys of sharing a home with her extended family. Interview by Nicola Baird

xxx

Angela Neustatter at home in front of the Hina doll shrine* which her Japanese daughter in law had as a child and put up to celebrate girls – a Japanese custom that coincides with International Women’s Day (in March). Look closely and you can see the things girls might wish for to have a happy life – food, money, music, flowers, tress and transport (though you might wish for an upgrade on the bullock cart).

For years Angela Neustatter has lived in Islington writing talked-about features for newspapers. She ran the Guardian fashion pages while living off Highbury Fields, and has written for most of the broadsheet newspapers. She’s also written numerous books – many drawing on her own experiences including Hyenas in Petticoats which looked at feminism from the 1968 to 1988 and This Is Our Time contemplating the challenges of mid-life in 1996. Then in 2014 out came The Year I Turna quirky a-z of ageing, written in her 70th year.

Angela’s interviewed everyone too, from her own hero, the author William Trevor, to Julie Christie and Helen Mirren. Many of the Islington Faces interviewees have said they know her, and suggested she’d make a great interviewee. And of course Angela does, but it’s off-putting sitting side-by-side on her huge sofa noticing that my expert interviewer subject has clocked my clumsy note taking. So unnerving that within 10 minutes both my biros give up which means she has to lend me one…

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

Screenshot 2016-03-12 18.07.51Now Angela has just completed The Lifestyle Entrepreneur, a readable manual showing how you can turn your interests into money, which she wrote with her youngest son, Cato Hoeben, 35.

“We got the commission but when I showed him my collection of notes he looked at them in horror. On the computer he had a mind map. He hadn’t written a book before but he helped organise me,” explains Angela. Eventually the pair found a good way of working – Angela did the interviews and a first draft. Cato gathered practical material and then took over the text.

Screenshot 2016-03-12 18.10.06

Cato Hoeben.

“By the end we were very much partners,” she says and soon were on to their next double act – running a five week course for students at London College of Communication, down at Elephant & Castle, entitled “I want to be an Entrepreneur”.

“It’s been an interesting life,” says Angela in the vast living space of the converted N1 pub she and her Dutch husband, Olly, bought in 1999 and then spent a year doing up before they could move in. It’s quite different to the Victorian and Georgian terraced houses and has enough space to enable her eldest son move in with his Japanese wife and young family. There’s play space for her grandchildren in the living room, including a rope swing dangling from the staircase which leads to the roof garden and Cato’s music studio. The walls are vibrant with interesting art and over-flowing bookcases. Not all the rooms are huge – Angela creates stained glass panels in a tiny space.

This afternoon the large wooden coffee table has been parked (it’s on wheels) under a long family eating table so that it’s out of the way while Angela and friends did their morning yoga and pilates.

“People say it’s very bohemian,” says Angela sitting on the blue leather sofa that’s positioned to catch the daytime sun and the warmth from the wood burner. She’s dressed in a warm blue cardi but it’s dressed up with four eye-catching necklaces.

xx

Once the Crown and Anchor, now a family home.

Move to Islington
Angela grew up in a suburban part of Surrey, met her husband in 1969 when she was working in Amsterdam and then moved to West London where her first son was born.

“We were living with my father in 1979 when Olly was knocked sideway by this double-fronted Georgian house in Highbury he’d cycled past. He thought we should move in, and my dad did too, but I think the bank thought that I was an arch manipulator like Regan*! Then my dad died, but he left us just enough to buy this wreck in Highbury Place. The kids had a glorious upbringing – they could scribble on the walls because we never got around to painting them!” she said. “It was a beautiful house but it always needed money and was always cold – then someone came along and wanted to buy it!”

After living on Highbury Fields it wasn’t easy to find another place. “Looking at houses depressed me and I was getting despondent. They either weren’t right or had just been done up by bankers with gold faucets which you couldn’t justify ripping out. Then Olly said he’d seen an old pub in Cross Street. It was a filthy stinking mess but we could see the potential. Someone else had bought it – but they were willing to sell it to us.”

So Angela and Olly got to work on their second Islington wreck. With the aid of an architect friend who put them in touch with a good team of builders they were able to turn it into their home – and have now lived there for 16 years.

xx

Fine Italian Delicatessen in Cross Street run – a good place for coffee after pilates.

Places Angela Neustatter likes in Islington

  • I love going to the theatre. I like the Almeida – last show I saw was the Bacchae. I also like the Rosemary Branch theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, N1. But I don’t go out much.
  • I used to live on Highbury Fields and love it. I like to stamp around and get some air.
  • I’ve been going to the Gate Restaurant, the upmarket vegetarian on St John Street for years. But I like Mem and Laz, 8 Theberton Street too.
  • After pilates and yoga my friends and I go to Piero and Rosanna’s deli at 48 Cross Street, N1 to have a cappuccino. It’s an Italian deli with real atmosphere.

“I do value living in such a culturally mixed place as London. I’d hate to feel Britain had become one of those places where we didn’t want that mix because as I see it, it’s essential if the world is to be a happier place,” she says. “When we first came to Islington in the 1970s people said ‘you don’t want to live there’, but Islington is a very fine example of a successful melting pot.”

“We live in an enclave where we know a lot of people and they look out for each other. It’s a community that feels at ease with itself. It doesn’t always of course and I know terrible things happen. Obviously it helps to have a nice family and a nice home – it’s like being in a village,” says Angela who claims she does not need to visit other parts of London much because Islington has it all, before adding, “And I like bumping into people, up to a point.”

Even so it’s a sociable home – in the mornings there’s the pilates class and most afternoons her grandchildren come up for a pre-bedtime play and read filling the house with laughter. “We had a party to celebrate girls on Sunday and there were lots of Japanese children galloping around the room,” says a delighted Angela. “My son and his wife want this to be their family home and the trade off is that they’ll have to look after us!”

Words*
Hina Dolls festival is held on 3 March.
Goneril and Regan are the manipulative daughters in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

Simon Izod: cycle tour leader

2 Mar

Everyone has a story. Could you cycle to Amsterdam – and remember the experience as a truly enjoyable holiday? That’s the challenge accountant and cycle tour leader Simon Izod set himself when setting up Beespoke Tours. He’s already run four trips and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, ie, that he provides comfortable, safe trips that enable you to reconnect with the world. Interview by Nicola Baird

Simon Izod who set up Beespoke cycle tours: “On a bike you can really experience the countryside or the city, and you have time to appreciate things.”

Simon Izod who set up Beespoke cycle tours: “On a bike you can really experience the countryside or the city, and you have time to appreciate things.”

Beespoke Tours, the quirky Islington based cycle company run by Simon Izod and his partner, Clarissa Carlyon, offers big cycling adventures for people who don’t perhaps imagine themselves as super-fit lycra-clad cyclists.

“We’ve done four trips, all to Amsterdam, although we do offer Paris and Bruges,” explains Simon, 39, in his sunny living room over mugs of herbal tea. His apartment, in a converted block at the old Barnsbury School site, is full of home comforts – fresh flowers, music open on the piano, cosy sofas and an armchair designed to curl up in and read books. So it’s fascinating to discover that Simon’s mission in life is to get more of us outside pedalling long distances.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

“The Amsterdam trip works out really well. We start at King’s Cross and then it’s two days to Harwich. We get the evening ferry across, enjoy a cooked breakfast and then are off the boat at 8am ready for the 60-65 miles to Amsterdam. We aim for 50 mile journeys – a generous six hour cycle – and choose routes away from main roads. We go through places of interest slowly and then a bit faster when we are out of London,” he says. By now I’m convinced this is the next Baird family holiday, but I like cycling, and have done it pretty much every day for years. However… my husband isn’t a big fan of bikes and my teenagers prefer buses.

Simon Izod and Clarissa Xf who run Beespoke Tours. Join them to cycle to Amsterdam, Paris or Bruges.

Simon Izod and Clarissa Carlyon who run Beespoke Tours. Join them to cycle to Amsterdam, Paris or Bruges.

Simon explains that it was Clarissa who helped him realise anyone could enjoy long distance cycling. “I was really into snowboarding and surfing, and friends with people who saw themselves as cyclists – they liked speed,” he explains, “but then I invited Clarissa to a trip to Thailand where I was meeting a friend who was cycling from London to Auckland. Clarissa felt she wasn’t a sports person, but then she came along with me and we all cycled 606km in five or six days. Most people underestimate what you can do on a bicycle! Clarissa came back saying ‘I can do this’. That was the extra push that enabled us to turn Beespoke tours into something that was not just alternative sustainable holidays, but also opened cycle touring to people who lack confidence or knowledge about what cycle touring entails.”

He’s convinced me… Now I need to sweet talk the rest of my family. Perhaps I will need to tell them that Simon got into cycling after he broke his neck while surfing.

A Barnsbury breakfast legend - Sundays, complete with an easy place to park a couple of bikes.

A Barnsbury breakfast legend – Sundays, complete with an easy place to park a couple of bikes (taken on Monday when it’s not open).

Places Simon Izod likes in Islington

"I think Canonbury Tower used to be covered in ivy. The paintwork is just the sort of shade William Morris would have approved of! Good work 21st century Islingtonians!" - Horace Warner

Some of Simon’s favourites buildings off Canonbury Sq.

  • Simon Izod: “Union Chapel is a beautiful venue. My partner Clarissa once played there with the London Gypsy Orchestra and a band called the Bleeding Heart Narrative. I like the Almedia theatre too.”
  • I go to the farmers’ market in Chapel Market – it’s one of the highlights of my weekend. There’s a great place that sells veg, it’s not organic but they don’t spray. I also get my eggs and bakery goods there.
  • I’m a member of ICAG (Islington Cyclists Action Group) and I’m campaigning to improve beautiful Canonbury Square – the oldest square in Islington and an important heritage site, it’s where George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh lived. I would like to love it, but it’s incredibly dangerous. I’ve had several near misses and been really shaken.
  • The New River is an oasis – I’ve seen goldfinches and long-tailed tits there and I do like the moorhens. I like the way the New River is not a river and it’s not new. It feels in balance and connected with nature and our city.
  • The Hemingford Arms In Barnsbury says Simon Izod: “A proper boozer.”

    The Hemingford Arms: “A proper boozer.”

    I enjoy pubs – the Hemingford Arms has beautiful flowers and is a proper boozer with some good value Thai food. It’s full of artefacts – prams and stuffed animals – it’s like being in the country.

  • Sunday, on 169 Hemingford Road, opposite the pub, does amazing breakfasts.
  • I do quite a lot of running so I’m drawn to Highbury Fields. I love the canal but it’s even better running around Islington’s squares. Thornhill (which is oval) is my favourite.
  • “I love the fact that Islington still has a sense of community. It’s such a melting pot of different people, and I love the little hidden gems that I became aware of only after living here a couple of years like Culpepper Garden, Barnsbury Wood and Gillespie Park nature reserve.”

Broken neck
“It was eight years ago in a very remote part of South Africa,” he says before recounting a traumatic five hour off-road drive to a public hospital. “There was a long wait. There were people with bullet shot wounds and a guy with a piece of wood impaled on his foot… They said follow the red footprints to the radiologist for an x-ray. I was laughing because there were two sets of footprints – one was painted, the other was blood. Then the radiologist looked at the x-rays and said ‘oh my god, just stand there’. Fortunately my friend was a nurse and helped put on a neck brace correctly. Then I was taken to a private hospital,” where he needed an operation to fuse the vertebrae. After that there was months recuperating before a slow recovery saw him taking up pilates and swimming, then triathlons and more cycling.

If you would like to cycle more (or want your kids to safely) you could try cycle training run by Islington Council. Could your next step after that be a Beespoke Tour to Paris?

If you would like to cycle more (or want your kids to cycle on roads safely) you could try cycle training run by Islington Council. Could your next step after that be Beespoke Tours to cycle to Paris?

Only connect
“People tell me I was lucky. But I didn’t feel very lucky. I’d broken my neck!” says Simon smiling. He’s a good conversationalist with some excellent stories. Several times he claims that breaking his neck didn’t change his life, but it coincided with his early 30s when he was rethinking what his place was in a world and “where we can’t carry on like we do. Anything eco-related has an image problem: it’s ascetic. You’re not allowed to fly on your holiday or you shouldn’t eat meat. The perception of environmentalism can be negative and I wanted to reframe it so I made positive choices, and by doing so I feel more connected.”

Turns out that the humble bike scores well for this task.

“On a bike you can experience travel around the countryside or the city. And you can see more stuff than if you walk. You also get the chance to stop and see things slower – time to appreciate things. I feel that for people a connection with nature is often missing. On our tours I’ve enjoyed experiencing the different seasons and seeing flowers and birds. There’s a meditative quality to cycling as well, it puts you more in the present.”

unspecifiedBeespoke Tours tips for enjoying a cycle ride
Simon Izod, who has been told his name can be traced back to the Phoenecians, learnt to ride a bike in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. When he was nine his family moved to Royston, Hertfordshire. “When I was five or six I had a small yellow bike with stabilisers and I remember riding along the pavement, and then my dad set my free and I crashed!”

  • The most important thing is to have a saddle that fits you – most are a standard shape meant for men. You can measure your bum – it’s all about the seat bones. Try Specialised (Cycle Surgery) at 11 Mercer Street in Covent Garden.
  • As well as that good saddle, you need good tyres.
  • You don’t have to buy expensive stuff: padded lycra and helmets can be a barrier. You need a breathable shirt for comfort and something waterproof.
  • Clarissa and I want to normalise cycling on our Beespoke Tours. In Holland the way the infrastructure is set up everybody is encouraged to cycle. You see people in lycra, but ordinary people too, and they’re all together on their bikes.
Simon Izod is putting his maths degree to good use: “I made the log cabin quilt. A friend’s mum showed me. It’s easy if you start with the red squares.”

Simon Izod is putting his maths degree to good use: “I made the log cabin quilt. A friend’s mum showed me a book called Make A Quilt In A Day which I used.”

So now Simon runs Beespoke cycle tours during the better weather, and during the winter he works as an accountant who makes time to run and cycle around Islington and Hackney to keep up his fitness and stay invigorated by life. But when he wants to relax he knows what to do too – showing me a wide blue and yellow scarf he’s begun for his first knitting project. “It should be ready by next winter,” he says holding it up. Judging by Simon’s ability to make time for the important things that’s going to be a splendid scarf.

  • In 2016 Beespoke Tours will be running “easy and fun” 3-4 day cycle trips to Amsterdam on 28 April, to Paris on 16 June and
    Bruges on 14 July. Prices start from £650.  
    www.beespoketours.co.uk   @BeespokeTours
  • Look at this map to see the planned North-South and East-West cycle routes which will make crossing London by bike much easier.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

Perdita & Honor Cargill: authors of Waiting for Callback

24 Feb

Everyone has a story. Mum and daughter writing duo Perdita & Honor Cargill, who live in Barnsbury, launched their funny first novel for teenagers in February – just a fortnight before the sequel was due to be delivered. So how did they do it? Plus a chance to WIN A FREE COPY of their book. Interview by Nicola Baird

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Honor Cargill and Perdita Cargill – the Barnsbury-based daughter/mother author combo – signing their first book, “Waiting For Callback” at the book’s launch. It’s a fun YA read, and you can win a free copy (see how at the end of this interview).

Perdita and Honor take it in turns to finish each other’s sentences – an unusually warm piece of mum and daughter behaviour. Meeting them in Euphorium café at Islington Green it’s clear there is much love, respect and good humour in the way they do this, though it presents challenging interview conditions. However it also helps explain how the pair have managed to write a book together without a single page screaming “this must be the mum speaking” or “this must be the teenager”. This achievement is even more remarkable as this is Mum Perdita’s first novel – she used to work as a tax barrister, while 17-year-old Honor admits to being dyslexic as well as busy studying for A levels in history, economics and politics.

It's hard to miss Blighty Cafe.

It’s hard to miss Blighty Cafe.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

READERS ARE INVITED TO MEET UP on Monday 29 February at Blighty Cafe, 35-37 Blackstock Road, 10-11.30am

“I used to enjoy drama so much at the Young Actors Theatre and then I did castings, and it led to so many humiliating and stupid things happening. We used to say someone should write a book about it,” says Honor, who like her mum is dressed in mostly black and white (she points out two dark blue details which look black to Islington Faces). Perdita continues: “It was a joke, something we gossiped and laughed about, and then we wrote some scenes when we were on holiday…”

“We had no idea what we were were doing so we sent it to the Literary Consultancy and they passed it to be read by an agent, Hannah Sheppard at DHH Literary Agency who loved it,” adds Perdita. Throughout the interview she laughs about herself as a typical North London mum, despite growing up in the fishing port of Mallaig on the north west coast of Scotland.

Not long after the agent got them a two-book deal – thanks partly to the pair being sent a cake with an iced message from publishers Simon Schuster that they were “waiting for our callback”.

7411f5d2-39f3-48b5-a091-37c7e9b3f91cThe novel’s funny: with lots of incidents revolving around the main character Elektra (who may have brown hair, but isn’t Honor) going to castings.

“We didn’t want it to be preachy. We wanted it to be funny,” begins Perdita. Honor adds: “It’s a relaxing book to enjoy after a bad day at school. Instead of doing three history essays you can curl up with this novel…” “We hope it will be read on the beach and cheer up the reader who’ll tell their friends that it’s good fun,” continues Perdita.

On the day Islington Faces interviewed Honor & Perdita Cargill about their new novel "Waiting for Callback," which charts a young actor's audition mishaps, just a street away this auditioning note was stuck to a bollard. Only in Islington!

On the day Islington Faces interviewed Honor & Perdita Cargill about their new novel “Waiting for Callback,” which charts a young actor’s audition mishaps, just a street away this auditioning note was stuck to a bollard. Only in Islington!

Places mum Perdita (P) & 17-year-old Honor (H) like going in Islington

  • H: I love Camden Passage! I’m obsessed with the chocolates at Paul Young. (P) We used to go into Annie’s Vintage for a dressing up treat and try on the hats. There’s always something new in Camden Passage – that’s both good and bad for the shops but it’s an interesting walk. (H) I really like going to the Breakfast Club with my friends.
  • P: I’m excited by King’s Cross. I walk most places and can now cut through Central St Martin’s (art school) smelling the coffee ground at Caravan. (H) I like the shiney new Waitrose.
  • In 1961 South African John Wright decided London needed its own marionette* (string puppet) theatre. The spot they choose was an old temperance hall damaged during World War Two when St Mary’s church, Upper Street was hit by a bomb causing roof debris to crash on to its neighbours.

    In 1961 South African John Wright decided London needed its own marionette* (string puppet) theatre, now known as the Angel Puppet Theatre. The spot they choose was an old temperance hall damaged during World War Two when St Mary’s church, Upper Street was hit by a bomb causing roof debris to crash on to its neighbours.

    H: I love the vibe around Islington Green. It’s so busy and buzzy with a great Waterstones.

  • P:   Euphorium Café near Highbury Corner is where I didn’t write the book! I went there every day to read the paper. H: I like to drink a lot of tea, but there’s insanely good ice cream at Udderlicious. And opposite is a really pretty patisserie.
  • P: We have family dinners at Pho – Vietnamese street food. (H) I love the fish and chip shops on Upper Street and we do spend a lot of time in Pizza Express.
  • P: I’m going to miss Diverse – it’s moving to Tufnell Park.
  • H: Ink@84, the new bookshop at Highbury, is really beautiful. I had a very nice cup of tea and I like the way they mix things on the shelves. (P) and the girl behind the till does stand up comedy.
  • H: I enjoyed the Young Actors Theatre on Barnsbury Road so much. I went there from the time I was seven to 14 and only stopped as I didn’t have time and it was a long way from my school so I was always late. It taught me so much about professional acting. (P) And you really liked the Little Angel Puppet Theatre too. (H) I still act, but I just do it at school. I’m Lady Sneerwell, the crazy one, in School for Scandal.

It’s clear that this mother-daughter pair were really close before they began writing the book – but the process of creating it seems to have brought them a touch tighter. “We discuss the plot, gossip about it and then we write specific scenes at home. I like writing dialogue (Honor) and I do square brackets then email it to her if there’s a massive bit of dialogue needed. We don’t sit together to write. She’s in the attic (Perdita). I’m in the kitchen (Honor) on laptops,” they say together.

Iced cookies at the book launch of Honor & Perdita Cargill's Waiting for Callback.

Iced cookies at the book launch of Honor & Perdita Cargill’s “Waiting for Callback”.

With the sequel of Waiting for Callback due to be delivered in February – ready for publication in early 2017 – it’s no surprise that Perdita and Honor relished their book launch at Daunts on Marylebone High Street. Publishing is still a new game for them – both are still marvelling over the amount of cake it has involved including cute promo iced cookies of the book jacket – even if they are close to the end of Elektra’s second series of acting adventures.

That said, the joy the pair clearly feel seeing a window of their books at Waterstones Islington, or copies at Ink@84 in Highbury, doesn’t mask the fact that writing young adult fiction as a pair involves a lot of typing, editing and the power to resist trashy TV and Netflix binges. Very few of us can manage this sort of cheery discipline, let alone a London teenager and her mum. But best of all their novel’s a lot of fun and an inspiration for any parents who aren’t quite so good at getting along with their own children or are thinking of putting their daughter on the stage.

7411f5d2-39f3-48b5-a091-37c7e9b3f91cGIVE AWAY – If you’d like a signed copy of Waiting for Callback please write on Islington Faces (eg, the comment box at the bottom of this article) or on Nicola Baird’s Facebook writer page the name of Honor and Perdita Cargill’s fabulous funny novel and your email. This offer is only open to UK and Isle of Man residents. COMPETITION closes on 7 March (midnight).

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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