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The Dustshoveller's Gazette: January 2012

Friday, 13 January 2012

Parliament Buildings of the World: No 4 - Catalunya

The autonomous Catalonian Parliament is in its capital, Barcelona; I've just returned from there after a post-Christmas break.  Cloudless skies and English summer temperatures allowed me to take these pictures the day before New Year's Eve.  The institution can trace its origins back to some 11th century legislative assemblies, which developed into a tricameral system with a written constitution by 1283.  Its full history can be found on the Parlement de Catalunya website. 

An independent Kingdom in the middle ages, by the mid-16th century Catalonia had come under the control of the Spanish (Castilian-Aragonese) King (better known to us in the UK as Philip II) and the Parliament was rarely called, being finally dissolved in 1714.  Revived as an autonomous region of Spain in 1931/32, Catalonia was crushed by Franco in 1939, and its Parliament only resurrected after the dictator's death in 1975.  The first elections to the new assembly took place in 1980, and of course, proceedings are in Catalan, not Castilian.

The Parlement building is in the Parc de Ciutadella, on the site of a much larger fort begun by King Philip V in 1715 to oppress the rebellious Catalonians.  It is housed in the former Arsenal building of the fort, the only part of the complex to survive demolition in the 19th century, following its use as a prison for political prisoners - Barcelona's own Bastille.  The Arsenal was later used under Franco as a military barracks.  The unicameral legislature of 135 deputies therefore sits today - triumphantly - in a building which had in the past been deeply associated with the suppression of Catalonia and its history, culture and language.

The Parliament building shares its surroundings with the city's botanical gardens and palm houses, the Natural History Museum of Catalonia, a series of fountains and gravelled walks, playgrounds and a boating lake.  All this is both slightly incongruous for tourists used to very grand ceremonial Parliamentary estates, and immensely refreshing and relaxing. 

Few foreigners, perhaps, are aware of the more sinister and symbolic history of the handsome pink building at the Parc's centre.


Friday, 6 January 2012

A New Year Progress Update

I'm so excited about recent progress in marching smartly down the road to publication, that I just had to write this update. Excuse the gush that follows (or stop here, if you prefer).

Just before Christmas I created a Facebook page for The Day Parliament Burned Down.  Do please 'like' if you're on FB!  I admit I've become a pretty shameless social media tart - apologies if I've also become a bore in the process.  

I've been in discussion with my commissioning editor, Matthew, at OUP about an image for the endpapers of the hardback.  We've decided on one of the unburnt old Palace of Westminster, which will contrast with the vibrant cover showing the fire in progress from the Lambeth bank of the Thames.  The Production Editor, Emma, has been in touch to say that production has now started and with details of the schedule for producing the book.  It will go to press in early July, and be published late August or early September.  My agent Bill is now asking for ideas for the next book too, and we are going to be talking over nine possibilities I have come up with later in the month.

I've now received a number of bookings for talks this year, and shortly I hope to be discussing the publicity programme OUP has lined up, with their marketing and PR folk.  The need to create a talk/events page for this blog has highlighted the limitations of the software Blogger uses (there are also bugs preventing followers from posting and being visible as members).  I'm therefore planning to move the Dustshoveller's Gazette to WordPress in the next couple of months, but don't worry - I'll redirect from here to there, when it happens.  Quite how many bells and whistles I'll need, and whether I'll be getting some professional help with the design, is still being pondered.  If you belong to a society, group, library or bookclub who would like a talk on the 1834 fire in the autumn, please get in touch with me at cshenton *at*  Sorry for that clunky email rendering which is designed to stop junk email: yet another reason to move to WordPress - with a spam-foiling form.

Then, finally, all of sudden on 3 January, I found that my book had been listed on OUP's online site, ready for pre-order, and with lots more about its content.  And now it's been given an ISBN by OUP, it's also available on Amazon for pre-order, and has already attracted several 'likes'.  The official marketing has begun.  2012 has got off to a really great start...and no blisters so far.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My New Year Reading Resolutions

I had a great haul of books in my Christmas stocking. Here's a list of what I got from family and friends and will be reading over the next few months. Some of them are for general interest, some work, and some just for fun.

First of all, I was given Mark Ormrod's Edward III, one of the Yale English Monarchs series. Over 20 years in gestation, it's a massive book, as is needed for a King who ruled for 50 years and whose reign shaped the fourteenth century both at home and abroad. I wrote my doctorate on Edward III's court and household in the first third of his reign so I'm dying to read what I imagine will be a great book by a great historian.

Next up is Claire Tomalin's biography of Charles Dickens that has received rave reviews. Now it's actually 2012 - Dickens' bicentenary - I'm looking forward to diving in as soon as possible to give myself some background for the celebrations.  PD James' Death Comes to Pemberley has me licking my lips, as does the secret santa present I received on New Year's Eve: Decadence Mandchoue - a modern edition of the scurrilous Chinese memoirs of the Edwardian scholar Sir Edmund Backhouse, who claimed to have slept with both Lord Salisbury and the Dowager Empress of China, among many others (though not at the same time, I think).  Are they fake or not?  I'll soon find out.

Back to some more serious books to tick off: A Short History of Parliament edited by Clyve Jones and John Tosh's Why History Matters. Which reminds me that I have still to finish John Maddicott's Origins of the English Parliament 924-1327. To my deep shame, this marvellous book got sidelined last year when all my spare time was taken up with, well, you know what...

I bought myself David Abulafia's The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean just before Christmas, one of the surprise hits of last year. It's another massive doorstop - hard to read on the train - so that'll be for evenings and weekends only. Over the holidays I've also been reminded of the difference in meaning between 'historic' and 'historical' by Simon Heffer's Strictly English, a rather humourless grammar refresher.

What's still on my wish list but not in my hand? Well, I keep meaning to read Simon Winchester's Atlantic: Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, and Helen Castor's She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (probably good ebook downloads for my commute), and I have a few unread monsters on my shelves which have been languishing there for too long.  I'd also like to take a look soon at Thomas Penn's Winter King, which breaks new ground on Henry VII (the essential but forgotten Tudor), and Mathew Lyons' book The Favourite, on Walter Raleigh.

That's enough to be going on with, I think.  In the words of the title of a final stocking filler anthology, I am Buried in Books.  What books did you get for Christmas?

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