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Christ and the smell of fish

The Mistress of Novices in Kathryn Hulme’s The Nun’s Story capturing some of the difficulties of life in community:

‘Once, long ago, I too found the community life a pure agony.  I suffered, knowing that my forced participation could never be pleasing to God.  I struggled to overcome this.  I thought about the Christ who took to Himself the very humblest of companions.  I told myself that quite possibly He could not abide the smell of fish or the frequently childish talk of those simple disciples.  Yet… He lived with them and spoke with them in the picturesque parables they could understand, He who had confounded the scholars of the temple when only twelve years old.’



I was first elected to the Court of Common Council as a member for Farringdon Within in a by-election in March 2011, and was re-elected for a four-year term in March 2013. I am now seeking re-election for a further four-year term.

There are 8 seats in Farringdon Within (it’s a large Ward), and 15 people contesting them. So what makes me stand out as worthy of your vote? In no particular order:

• I’ve been around long enough, but not too long. You need a bit of a track record to get taken seriously at Guildhall and to begin to exercise some influence on committees (where the decisions get made). But if you have too long a track record, you can get stale (and people stop listening to you). After my six years on the Court – and as a chairman of a committee and of a sub-committee – I’m at the right stage to be really useful over the next four years.
• I have a track record of working with residents to bring about positive change and to avoid the worst effects of late-night licences, multiple road works, disruptive developments, inadequate parking enforcement, and crowded streets and pavements. I don’t make false promises and can’t work miracles, but I do know how to make effective representations to planning and licensing committees.
• One of the things I’m proudest of in my last four years as a Councilman is having successfully challenged the City of London Corporation’s official line over the café leases on Hampstead Heath (I’m currently chairman of the committee that oversees its management). I turned the mood at an initially acrimonious public meeting – see this piece in The Observer – by agreeing that the Corporation had got it wrong on this occasion, and that we had not consulted properly. Since then we have been doing far more listening and working much better with all our stakeholders. Spending time on the management of the Heath and other North London Open Spaces may seem a far cry from the concerns of Farringdon Within – though I hope all residents and workers in the City do sometimes manage to get up to the Heath – but the way I have steered this committee through some choppy waters does demonstrate that I’m an independent voice, can get things done, and am not afraid to take a stand.
• Another thing I’m proud of is having been Chair of Governors of The City Academy Hackney. I take no particular credit for the fact that my chairmanship happened to coincide with the most spectacular GCSE results achieved by our students, but it still gives me great pleasure to think that I may have made some contribution to improving the life-chances of young people in an area of deprivation in a neighbouring borough.
• The other aspect of the City Corporation’s activities I’ve been most involved with over the last few years is the management of its social housing estates. (There are two in the Square Mile, and ten others spread over six London boroughs.) This has included working on a programme to build 700 new homes, as a small contribution to helping solve the capital’s housing crisis.

It will be clear by now that much of what Common Councilmen get involved in – if I’m at all typical – is only indirectly related to the concerns of the people who elect them. This can be a problem, and there’s no point denying it by pretending at election time that one’s interests are narrower than they actually are. The Corporation is more than a local authority – it has irons in a lot of fires – so when you decide who to vote for, you may want to consider more than who will best represent your personal concerns about life in the Ward but also think about who shares your wider concerns for the future of our capital city.

A few things about me:

• I am Clerk (three days a week) to the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, with an office in College Hill (near Cannon Street station);
• I’m also a freelance editor and proofreader, and have been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art;
• I have been involved at the church of St Bartholomew the Great, as singer, server and PCC member (not all at once) since 1987, and am currently the Parish Clerk;
• I’m an author – of history – and have a book coming out in April about the martyrs burnt at the stake in West Smithfield in the mid-sixteenth century;
• I’m not standing as part of a ‘slate’ as I feel they lack transparency, and would rather speak for myself.

I would very much like to be given the opportunity to make a further contribution to the life of the City of London, and to continue to be an independent and effective voice for the people of Farringdon Within, for the next four years. If you are an elector, please use 1 of your 8 votes to vote for me.

Produced and promoted by Virginia Rounding, of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB

How to get a literary agent (or not)

I’ve just responded to an aspiring author on this topic, and thought it was worth sharing my advice (such as it is) more widely. Here’s what I told him:

Here are a few thoughts based on my own experience of getting publishers/agents to be interested in my work.

It’s always a struggle, as you have clearly already found out! What we as writers find fascinating – and it’s generally obvious to us why we wrote, or are writing, a particular book – often seems to leave the potential publisher or agent cold.

What they are always looking for is what they call a ‘hook’ – by which I suppose they mean both: what will reach out and ‘grab’ the reader, and what can they ‘hang it on’ when they’re describing the book to others? While we, the authors, are wondering what will engage a publisher, they are in turn thinking what will booksellers (i.e. the buyers in book stores etc.) respond to. And unfortunately, our expectations often differ, in that authors tend to think in terms of being original, doing something no one has ever done before, whereas the booksellers (at least as perceived by publishers’ marketing departments) want the tried and tested, something familiar, something ‘like’ something else, so that they know where to put it on the shelves. Sounds stupid, but I’ve had that kind of response so many times.

What we somehow have to try to do is achieve both those things – be different, and the same, simultaneously.

So, in a covering letter and synopsis, what ideally should come across is that your book just had to be written, that you are the person to write it, that, yes, it is original but at the same time it can be ‘placed’. Which successful authors/books is it in line with, which existing audiences will it appeal to? Does it have some particular relevance to world events now? To ‘entertain and educate’ is too vague. There are millions of books already doing that – or trying to – so why is yours especially worth reading? Why wasn’t it enough for you to read other people’s books, come to that? If you can give convincing answers to those kinds of questions, you may be on the way to being heard.

Then, once you’ve got something you’re happy with and believe ought to convince others, the only other thing to do is not to give up. Pick an agent that deals with your kind of topic and, when they reject you, try the next on the list and keep going!

Good luck…

Herzog on abuse

HerzogHerzog by Saul Bellow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bellow wrote things in the 1960s one couldn’t write now, without howls of protest, more’s the pity. Here’s an example:

‘”My childhood was a grotesque nightmare,” [Madeleine] went on. “I was bullied, assaulted, ab-ab-ab … ” she stammered.


‘She nodded. She had told [Herzog] this before. He could not bring this sexual secret of hers to light.

‘”It was a grown man,” she said. “He paid me to keep it quiet.”

‘”Who was he?”

‘Her eyes were sullenly full and her pretty mouth desperately vengeful but silent.

‘”It happens to many, many people,” he said. “Can’t base a whole life on that. It doesn’t mean that much.”‘

View all my reviews

Choices, or sacrificing one’s luggage

Wise words on choices from Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point:

Lucy shook her head. ‘Perhaps it’s a pity,’ she admitted.  ‘But you can’t get something for nothing.  If you like speed, if you want to cover the ground, you can’t have luggage.  The thing is to know what you want and to be ready to pay for it.  I know exactly what I want; so I sacrifice the luggage.  If you choose to travel in a furniture van, you may.  But don’t expect me to come along with you, my sweet Walter.  And don’t expect me to take your grand piano in my two-seater monoplane.’

Poem: A baptism

Brompton Oratory, a hot lunch-time in July,

a baby being received into the Catholic Church

and Catholic upper-crust society;

dressed-up, a group stands round the font.

Otherwise the building’s almost empty, save a

scattering of oddballs dotted round the nave,

the occasional stray tourist fleeing from the sun.


A little girl in blue and white-striped dress

escapes the cluster of family and friends.

She patters down the aisle towards the wardrobe-like

confessionals – archaic Wendy-houses –

which lure her to explore their dark insides;

drunk with happiness, she crawls along a pew;

ecstatic – the Oratory one unimagined playground.


Behind her plods the solemn uncle.

Determined not to make a sideshow of himself,

he doesn’t chase – but holds himself on guard

till the moment she stands still. She totters,

absorbing wonder, dizzies herself with space…

He scoops her up, bears her back towards propriety –

the serious expectations of family and Church.


Virginia Rounding


[Published in Ironing the hankies: a selection of 20 poems, Pikestaff Press, 1999]

Alix and Nicky by Virginia Rounding

Subtitle: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina Rating: **** (4/5) Published: St. Martin’s Press, 2011 Format: Hardcover Genre: Nonfiction Source: Personal Collection I have read a number …

Source: Alix and Nicky by Virginia Rounding