Today I’m pleased to welcome Carys Bray to the blog. Carys is the best selling author of A Song for Issy Brady and the short story collection Sweet Home. Her latest novel, The Museum of You was published by Hutchinson on 16 June 2016.
Carys has written a great guest post about her favourite museums. Keep on reading afterwards for an excerpt from The Museum of You.
In my new novel The Museum of You, twelve year old Clover Quinn sorts through her mother’s belongings and curates an exhibition in the second bedroom of the house she shares with her Dad, Darren.
As part of The Museum of You blog tour, I’m writing about some of my favourite museums. In recent months it has been frustrating to read of the museum closures which appear to be disproportionately affecting the north of England. Museums are a great place to learn about our heritage; they’re often a testament to the efforts and dedication of working people, the men and women who built and made many of the things we take for granted today.
If, back when I had my first child back in 1997, someone had told me that football would play a huge part in my family’s life, I would have laughed. But it’s true. Three of my four children have played junior league football. Five years ago when one of our son’s football coaches had to quit and it looked like the team might fold, my husband got his FA coaching badge and took over. Now he now coaches three teams.
Two nights a week are taken up with football training and there are matches every Saturday and Sunday – that’s before anyone gets down to the business of supporting their professional team(s). So, as you can imagine, The National Football Museum was an interesting place for us to visit.
You can pay for a guided tour, but we wandered around at our own pace. Memorable things include the 1930s World cup matchball that looks capable of smashing windows and heads, a replica of the 1966 trophy and Diego Maradona’s hand-of-god shirt. There are collections of match programmes, trophies, toys, games and scarves. Visitors have an opportunity to stop shots and take a penalty.
For me, the most glorious thing in the museum is The Art of the Game, a renaissance style paining of Eric Cantona reigning triumphant following the resurrection of his career. At his feet, disciples David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers pose languidly while, in the background, Alex Ferguson (as Caesar?) is crowned with a laurel wreath. It is a wonderfully bonkers blend of fandom and religious imagery. As Terry Pratchett wrote, ‘The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.’
And that brings me back to Clover Quinn’s museum. The thing about her museum is that it’s not just a museum. It’s much more than that. Part evocation, part conjuration: an attempt to discover her mother’s essence; a conduit to the past; a secret, until the Big Reveal, which will be epic, she hopes.
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 read my review of The Museum of You here.