Posted by: marymarthatours | December 20, 2010

The Great York Book Search

Martha is the “shopper extraordinaire” in our family. Mostly I just tag along with her for the fun of watching her find bargains and treasures. But on our recent trip to York, England, I had my own shopping goal.

Sometime prior to our trip, I had discovered a series of mysteries that are set in current day York. The author, Barbara Whitehead, wrote these stories, called the York Cycle of Mysteries, in the 1990’s. The titles include:

  • Playing God (1988)
  • Girl with Red Suspenders (1990)
  • The Dean it was the Died (1991)
  • Sweet Death, Come Softly (1992)
  • The Killings at Barley Hall (1995)
  • Secrets of the Dead (1996)
  • Death at the Dutch House (1997)
  • Dolls Don’t Choose (1998)

Before our trip, I had managed to find the first five titles through Inter-Library-Loan, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. When we got to York, I could see the settings where these stories took place — the Abbey grounds where the mystery plays were held; the walkways along the River Ouse; the Minster; and, of course, Barley Hall.

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St. Mary’s Abbey ruins….and….the River Ouse in the morning mist

Unfortunately, I had not been able to locate a source for the last three books before I left on our trip. “Not a problem,” I thought. “I’ll just nip into a second-hand book shop in York and purchase the last three titles”. WRONG. I think I dragged Martha into every used book shop and many new book stores in central York looking for those volumes. In one of the charity shops, the clerk said to us, “There was an American lady in yesterday who said she’s been all over York looking for those books”. I turned to my sister and asked, “Martha, were we in this shop yesterday?” “No”, she said, “there must be two American women on the same hunt at the same time”. And although it’s hard to imagine that nowhere in York can you buy these not-so-very-old books by a York author with a York setting, that seems to be the case. There were no Barbara Whitehead books for me in York.

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Mary, on the hunt in a York used-book shop

I did buy books, of course; I’m a bookaholic and can’t resist. My favorite came from the National Trust Shop near the Minster and is called Horrible Christmas, written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown, a part of their “Horrible Histories” series. It’s a very funny and irreverent send-up of many of our treasured holiday traditions and appeals to the “Bah Humbug” in me.

The other book that Martha and I bought together was When We Lived In Uncle’s Hat, a children’s book by German authors Peter Stamm and Jutta Bauer. We had never heard of this story and wanted to read the book before we went to see the theatrical version by the British troupe, Tutti Frutti, at the York Theatre Royal. The story deals with the charming and somewhat surreal efforts of a family of musicians who try to find the perfect home. Each place they try – the blue house, a bus, the forest, the moon, under the sea, and even on the brim of Uncle’s hat – is not quite right for all of them. But in the end, they discover that the perfect home is wherever the family is happy together.

We absolutely LOVED the play, which was staged in the smallest performance space at the Theatre Royal – only three rows of seats on three sides of the very simple set. I think we laughed more than the many children who were present. English theatre reviewer Alfred Hickling of the Guardian said in his review of the play: “There’s a simple standard by which to gauge the effectiveness of children’s drama: does it leave you choking back big, silly tears of joy at the end”. As far as Martha and I were concerned, “When We Lived In Uncle’s Hat” was a huge success.

For some of the background on the York Theatre Royal production and to meet the cast see:

Behind The Scenes at the York Theatre Royal
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