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September book club - The Ballroom

(76 Posts)
Waveney Thu 01-Sep-16 12:23:46

I was excited to receive a copy of The Ballroom this morning, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I spent August waiting in anticipation for the book of the month, and put off starting a new book in case it arrived so I am delighted to be able to start a new read!😃

gardener Thu 22-Sep-16 15:48:40

I can only reiterate all the above comments and say how much I enjoyed this book.I will certainly recommend it.
To me it is a book with 3 aspects...a touching love story, a factual look at England and it's politics in 1911, and thirdly a fictionalised dramatic account of the people and workings in an Asylum in Yorkshire.
It's a carefully researched, well written book which I found engrossing.
I got really involved with all the characters and the surprising ways in which they changed during the course of the book.
To Anna....
Had you decided on all these changes before you started ?
Or did the characters develop themselves as you went along ?
With reference to your great-great-grandfather...
I read that you started your research through the 1911 census
What would we do without the internet now ?
I have looked at images of the ballroom and as you say it looks magnificent.
I'm glad that you found out that not all was doom and gloom at the asylum and that many people were well cared for and cured.
Thank you to Anna and to Gransnet !!!

patparti Sun 25-Sep-16 15:52:58

Thank you for my copy of 'The Ballroom' which I have just finished reading. An engrossing, well-written novel which kept my interest from beginning to end. Thank goodness we have moved on from treating people in that way. The Eugenics movement was indeed a frightening concept. I, too, will look for more of Anna's books.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 26-Sep-16 16:38:29

Just to say we will be sending these over to Anna midweek so if you have comments or questions to add please do so by midday Weds

emmasnan Tue 27-Sep-16 19:20:47

Hello Anna,
I really enjoyed this book. What an insight in to life in an asylum. You described everything so well, it was easy to get engrossed.
I'm a little late finishing the book, so the questions I had have already been asked. I will be ordering your previous book Wake and I look forward to reading any future books.

ginnie Wed 28-Sep-16 11:00:15

I absolutely loved this book and couldn't put it down once I started to read it! It was particularly poignant for me because I only recently found out about a great great aunt of mine who was admitted to Prestwich asylum in 1909 and died there two years later. This had been kept a secret in the family ever since! I was enthralled by the characters in Anna's book and it is beautifully written with powerful description.

Dannydog1 Wed 28-Sep-16 14:02:41

Am looking forward to finishing this book. I love the style and it is very moving.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 28-Sep-16 15:53:37

Questions sent to Anna - do keep adding your reviews and we will put her answers up as soon as we get them

granjan15 Thu 29-Sep-16 00:13:47

I loved this book. It was beautifully written with very convincing characters. I live very near to the former High Royds Hospital in Menston so it was particularly interesting for me to read about what life might have been like there when it was a mental hospital. I look forward to reading more books by Anna Hope.

LullyDully Thu 29-Sep-16 08:44:27

It does.seem that eugenics was an " answer " to poverty at that time. Both shocking and insidious. We discover that the special school I taught in was named after a councillor who was a.eugenesist. We decided to keep quiet as she lived a.long time ago when such ideas were fashionable.

Jane10 Thu 29-Sep-16 08:51:51

Yes Eugenics was 'fashionable' for a while. I liked the way the book introduced the topic and helped us see through the doctor's eyes how it must have seemed a genuinely useful approach at the time. Of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions! A good read on several levels.

BeHappy Thu 29-Sep-16 09:47:24

Such a beautiful book. I would love to know what inspired you to write it. smile

Buddie Thu 29-Sep-16 16:09:27

Sorry I finished this book on holiday and had no internet access until today so a bit late posting my responses.

I really enjoyed this book and thank you for introducing me to this author. I do not always appreciate novels that follow more than one main character but these lives were so intricately entwined that their stories almost seemed as one. I thought at first that Ella was to be the main character but by the end it is only John’s story that is fully fleshed out although the conclusions for Ella and Charles are not left hanging.
The book is well researched yet the writer has not allowed the research to show, details emerging naturally as the story progresses. The author also introduced me to some dialect words I had not encountered before – clavering, fratching and mazzled for example – and kerns of milk which I assume to be churns. I love language and learning new versions, especially terms that may be in danger of dying out so I appreciated these but did wonder if they might have seemed more natural if they had not been so sparsely spread throughout the story. Stories are often written with Welsh or Gaelic terms throughout where the meaning can be gathered from the surrounding text and wondered if it was a conscious decision to use these dialect words so frugally. Once introduced and their meanings deduced they could have been used as the norm. However, this is a minor point and in no way did it detract from my understanding or enjoyment of the book and I look forward to new books by this author. Has she any other family connections which could draw forth such a powerful novel I wonder?

hjw2505 Thu 29-Sep-16 19:36:05

Have just finished this book which was really well crafted interweaving the stories of the inmates and the doctor, all of whom had found it difficult to find their role in society. I found the details about the regime in the asylum worrying seeing as this was little over 100 years ago and was left questioning whether there are areas of our current society that we need to shine a light on and not just accept what we are told without question

GrannyGlyn Fri 30-Sep-16 18:07:09

I really enjoyed reading this book. Anna, I love your style of writing. The switching between characters held my interest and I had to keep reading to see what happened.
A beautifully sad story, so very well written.
Thanks Gransnet and thank you Anna, I will look for more work from this author.

halfgran Sat 01-Oct-16 10:23:32

Loved this book although it took much longer to read due to my wandering off down memory lane and having to read up on that dreadful eugenics society who were obviously blind or just ignored the fact mental illnesses and disability cover all classes of society! Jane10 I know exactly what you mean, in 69 I started as a cadet nurse in what was then called a hospital for the mentally subnormal ( formerly a colony), and remember the weekly dances, patients employment within the hospital and the dreadfully archaic rules and regulations you dared not question even then. Only one niggle, or maybe I missed it due to wandering mind, how did Dan fare on his escape? Or could that and a fuller tale of Dan and Ella''s stories feature in a new book?

GrannieAnnie123 Wed 19-Oct-16 22:00:44

Thankyou so much for my copy of "The Ballroom". I found it deeply moving, beautifully written book. It gave an good picture of life in those times and the misplaced views of the believers of Eugenics. A really good read.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:50:08

Dear Gransnet,

Thanks so much for reading and all of your lovely comments.
My mum would agree with you all on Aidan Turner!
So, I'll take these one by one in the order I was sent them.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:50:47

bookcorner

I have already read this book on my kindle and loved it. I would like to ask Anna Hope what the inspiration for her story was

Hi Bookcorner - if you read the Author's Note, there's a fairly detailed description there of how I got the inspiration for the novel, but briefly, I was casting about on Ancestry, when I discovered my great-great-grandfather had been a patient at the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in the early 20th century. I knew nothing about the place and did a quick internet search, where I came across an archive dedicated to it. It was there I first saw the picture of the magnificent ballroom at the heart of the asylum. The beauty of the room was such a contrast to what surrounded it that I knew I had to write about it, and the idea of the novel was born.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:51:21

nancytownsend

A very moving story. I enjoyed it very much. I see it was inspired by the life of the author's great-great-grandfather.
I would like to ask Anna Hope how long she took researching and writing The Ballroom.

Dear Nancy,
It took a while...I'm not one of those historical fiction writers who researches, then writes. I research all the way through the writing period, so I was reading and researching for a good two and a half years I reckon. I write first drafts fairly rapidly - it usually takes around six months, but then the hard slog of editing and redrafting starts. It took almost three years from inception to completion.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:52:45

Gagagran

I absolutely loved this book and could hardly bear to put it down. I come from the West Riding (now West Yorkshire) and know Menston (on which Sharston is based) well. It is a wonderful book.

How cruel and unkind life was for the many locked up in asylums even though they had shelter and a good diet from their own produce. I suppose the slums of nearby Leeds and Bradford were an awful environment but throughout the book there is the echo of the cry for freedom from the strict asylum regime, which at least the slum dwellers had to some extent.

I thought the ending was wonderful and very satisfying and it left us with some hope for a happier future for John.

I think Anna Hope is a gifted writer and would like to ask her if she has more books in the pipeline? (do hope so!)

Thank you so much. I do indeed have another book I'm itching to start work on. I'm planning on beginning writing next month.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:53:21

Grannyjacq1

This is the best book I have read for ages. Finishing it off on the beach this afternoon, at the end of a September heatwave – just like the one described in the novel in 1911 – I happened to see a teenage girl who clearly had both mental and physical disabilities. She was being looked after by two carers, who were singing and playing with her on the beach. Clearly, the young girl was having a wonderful time. It made me think about how different her life would have been if she had had this disability 100 years ago. Instead of enjoying the freedom of a beach, she would have been locked away from society, as girls like Ella and Clem were – separated from nature and other people by high walls and barred windows. Churchill’s disturbing plans for compulsory sterilisation and the ‘Feeble Minded Bill’ (eventually passed as the Mental Deficiency Act in 1913) form the historical backdrop to this absorbing and beautifully written novel.
I loved everything about this novel and found the three ‘voices’ convincing and engaging – even Charles, who also seemed to be a victim of circumstances with his unsympathetic family and repressed homosexual desires. Each was trapped in their own particular way. The violence which permeates the novel is frightening – especially the forced feeding of patients. Hope writes superbly about emotions as well as the landscape/weather, with the two often reflecting each other in a way which reminded me of some of DH Lawrence’s prose. Although the 3 narratives were written in the third person, Hope captures their individual ‘voices’ very well, with use of dialect words and Polari enhancing this.
I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or title, and this sounds like a very ‘gendered’ comment – sorry - but I wonder how many male readers would be put off reading this by the title and cover? I know my husband would enjoy reading it, as he used to work as a nursing auxiliary in a mental hospital in Yorkshire during the holidays when he was a student, but a cursory glance at the cover made him think that I was reading another Jane Austen novel. I can see why it was called ‘The Ballroom’ – but I wonder if Anna Hope had considered any other possible titles?
I will certainly go on to read ‘Wake’, and any other novels which Hope is planning to write. Like some of the other bookclub readers, I also think this would make an excellent film.

Hi Grannyjacq - oh I did indeed consider other titles. In fact, I considered loads. I agree that some titles can seem gendered and perhaps put off male readers. In the end though, The Ballroom felt right, simply because it was the pictures of the ballroom that had been the first inspiration to begin writing, the thing that had first hooked me in.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:54:00

Persistentdonor

I was grateful to receive a paperback copy of "The Ballroom" by Anna Hope and have found the novel entirely absorbing and engrossing.
I worked in several different NHS secure mental health units between 1997 & 2007. The description of the old red brick buildings is so generically accurate, and really forcibly reminded me of the first time I stood in one of those beautiful ballrooms.
The model of a self sufficient hospital, (usually with its own brass band and cricket team,) to look after the mentally ill who were unable to survive in the outside world, does appear to be an excellent idea. However, as Anna Hope expresses, the reality was that any member of the struggling underclass could find themselves incarcerated simply through demonstrating frustration at being financially deprived.
Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, my question to Anna Hope would be: had she mapped the whole novel before she began writing, or did some of the characters evolve during the process...... at what point did she realise that certain staff at Sharston Asylum might be far more certifiably mad than her featured patients?

Hi Persistentdonor.
I don't plan at all before I write, which can be scary, but is also exciting. It means characters can evolve and take me in unexpected directions.
This certainly happened with Charles, who wasn't even a character when I started writing. Once I gave him space on the page though, his voice came through very strongly. In many ways he was the most interesting character to write, and such a contrast to Ella and John.

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:54:30

Greenfinch

This is the best book I have read for some time. I enjoyed everything about it including its setting in one of those long hot summers leading up to World War One. I thought the characters were beautifully portrayed and didn't want the book to end .I wanted to know more about them and wondered if Anna Hope intends to write about them again. I would have loved to have known more about Clem and what happened to Ella from the moment she was dropped off on the moors.Her life as a mother would have been fascinating as would have been her relationship with her family and how she coped without John.

HI Greenfinch, and thank you so much,
I don't think I'll be writing about Ella and Clem again, mainly because this is actually the second time I have written a novel about them. The first was an unpublished novel set in London in 1908, in which the two women were suffragettes. The novel was never quite right, but I loved the characters and wanted them to have a further life, so I'm really glad they are living in readers' imaginations!

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:55:04

rocketstop

Hi Anna,
First of all, let me say, I read a lot of books, so I can be over critical of the ones I do read, secondly, I am recovering from a major operation, and wondered if it would be folly to try a new book from an Author I have never read, when my attention span was so low , I was sleepy and obviously in pain.However, what I read in your book will stay with me for a long long time.It was the most affecting story, and your descriptions of the simple things that happen outside:Birds singing, grass growing, skies etc, all painted so beautifully poignantly from the perspective of Ella who could only yearn to be outside. How fantastic, the gifts from John and what they represented, the Feather etc.
It was sad beyond measure, and exquisite and I loved it very much. Thank you for a great read, the only trouble is..How do you top that, and are you going to try ? I hope so.
Thank you Anna for helping me through my own days and nights of confinement.

Bless you! Thank you so much. I'm so happy to think the book kept you company and eased you through a difficult time. I'll definitely be writing another book, but it will be very different in feel I think. I hope you like it as much!

AnnaHope Wed 26-Oct-16 09:55:36

gardener

I can only reiterate all the above comments and say how much I enjoyed this book.I will certainly recommend it.
To me it is a book with 3 aspects...a touching love story, a factual look at England and it's politics in 1911, and thirdly a fictionalised dramatic account of the people and workings in an Asylum in Yorkshire.
It's a carefully researched, well written book which I found engrossing.
I got really involved with all the characters and the surprising ways in which they changed during the course of the book.
To Anna....
Had you decided on all these changes before you started ?
Or did the characters develop themselves as you went along ?
With reference to your great-great-grandfather...
I read that you started your research through the 1911 census
What would we do without the internet now ?
I have looked at images of the ballroom and as you say it looks magnificent.
I'm glad that you found out that not all was doom and gloom at the asylum and that many people were well cared for and cured.
Thank you to Anna and to Gransnet !!!

Hello there,
I hadn't decided on all the characters, no. Charles came into the book once I'd started writing but I found him so compelling I had to carry on with him. And I agree, the internet is a great resource for research. (Although can be a huge distraction for writers!)